Just last week, 257 members of the U.S. House voted to create up to 55,000 STEM visas. The vote for the Republican sponsored plan failed because the bill was introduced on suspension calendar and thus required that two thirds of the legislators vote "yes." The Democrats didn't want to support the measure primarily because the Republican plan would have repurposed 55,000 diversity lottery visas for the STEM visas. Diversity visas are made available to people in countries underrepresented in the U.S.
The H-1B visa is more controversial than green cards for advanced degree graduates. The H-1B is heavily used by offshore outsourcing firms, which puts a lot pressure on the cap creating competition for visas for U.S.-based firms. The H-1B visa has also given rise to small IT development shops that primarily use foreign workers. The prevailing wage protections in the visa aren't seen by critics as strong enough, and because employers apply for the visa, it is argued that the foreign workers are all but indentured.
Ron Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and high skill immigration issues, took issue with some of the Microsoft's arguments, including its workforce projections and claim that computer science degree production is not keeping up with job demand. Not all computer-related occupations have or need a computer science degree, Hira said.
"Is there a shortage of people going to medical school or even law school or in investment banking? No, because smart kids know that this is a reasonable career path," said Hira, although he notes that may be changing for law school. "Why are kids not going into IT? Because of industry employment relations," said Hira.
In the late 1990s the number of computer science grads doubled and he believes enrollment could double again. "Why not focus efforts on that instead of importing guest workers?" he said.
In terms of visa needs, Hira believes the problem could be fixed through legislation introduced by Senators Richard Durbin (D-ll) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Among the things their reform would accomplish is restricting work visas to 50 percent of its employment U.S. base. "This would solve their issues," he said.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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