Silicon Valley companies, Democrats, President Barack Obama, and Republican lawmakers and journalists in support of comprehensive immigration reform have repeated the mantra that more high-tech visas and temporary work permits are needed in an immigration reform bill because the country faces a shortage of workers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.
Researchers, though, believe that claim is demonstrably false.
Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Anft writes that “most researchers who have looked into the issue–those who don’t receive their money from technology companies or their private foundations
–say the notion that there is a STEM-worker shortage is “a myth”
Silicon Valley lobbying groups have spent over $130 million on lobbying efforts to triple the number of visas the country currently awards on a yearly basis in an immigration bill, and those like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have said that their high-tech companies need more workers from the STEM fields. If not, they have claimed that “a continuing shortage of workers in those fields will sink the nation and its economy beneath the surface of an ever-flatter world, overrun by lower-paid foreigners who have outpaced us in STEM education.”
According to Anft, though, “Unemployment rates within STEM fields generally, while lower than the overall unemployment rate of 7.2 percent, are often higher than they’ve been in years–a sign that there is a shortage of jobs, not workers.” He notes that if there were a shortage, there would be a “rise in wages in technology and science fields. And that isn’t happening.”
“If you’re a biologist, chemist, electrical engineer, manufacturing worker, mechanical engineer, or physicist, you’ve most likely seen your paycheck remain flat at best. If you’re a recent grad in those fields looking for a job, good luck,” he writes before citing a National Academies report that “suggests a glut of life scientists, lab workers, and physical scientists, owing in part to over-recruitment of science-Ph.D. candidates by universities.”
He notes that Ron Hira, “an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology who frequently testifies before Congress,” has made the case that high-tech companies like Microsoft “have advocated for more federal money for STEM education and more visas for foreign IT workers–even as they lay off thousands of American employees with comparable skills.”
“The Washington consensus is that there is a broad-based shortage of STEM workers, and it’s just not true,” Hira said.
Obama “has called for one million new STEM graduates and 100,000 new teachers in those fields over the next decade,” but the immigration reform legislation that he is pushing may make it tougher for these new graduates to get good-paying STEM jobs, which will be taken by foreign and temporary workers.
“Most of the claims of such broad-based shortages in the U.S. STEM work force come from employers of STEM personnel and from their lobbyists and trade associations,” Michael Teitelbaum, “a Wertheim Fellow in science policy at Harvard University and a senior adviser at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation,” told Anft. “Such claims have convinced some politicians and journalists, who echo them.”