Feb 08, 2013 at 6:35 pm
A few posts back, on immigration economics, I wrote this:
Watch for members of Congress to try to expand guest worker programs throughout this round of reform, particularly in STEM and computer related guest visas, like H-1B’s. There is simply no credible economic argument I’ve seen based on wage or employment trends that would support the notion that there’s a near-term shortage in these fields. The wage trends in particular simply do not reflect excess demand relative to available supply.
Today, we see EPI’s Ross Eisenbrey with an op-ed in the NYT on this:
WHILE genuine immigration reform has the potential to fix a seriously broken system, four senators have introduced a bill to solve a problem we don’t have: the supply of high-tech workers.
The bill’s authors, led by Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, argue that America would benefit from letting more immigrants trained in science, technology, engineering and math work in the country, with the sponsorship of high-tech companies like Microsoft and I.B.M.
But the opposite is the case: the bill would flood the job market with indentured foreign workers, people who could not switch employers to improve their wages or working conditions; damage the employment prospects of hundreds of thousands of skilled Americans; and narrow the educational pipeline that produces these skilled workers domestically.
I’m still enough of a card-carrying economist that I think price (or wage) signals matter. So if a supply-shortage should develop in an occupation that policymakers think is important for our future growth, the last thing you’d want to do is jam the signal by artificially inflating the supply flow with a guest worker program, especially one with all the flaws Ross underscores. No, you’d want wages to rise in the sector to signal students that it’s a good place to target.
But that would mean rising wages for someone who draws a paycheck, and that’s heady stuff these days.
So absolutely, let’s comprehensively reform immigration and create a path to citizenship. But let’s realize that there’s no reason for that to include lifting the H-1B caps.
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