A source on Capitol Hill has informed me of an amazing briefing today by a “Who’s Who” of industry lobbying groups (PNAE, CompeteAmerica, American Immigration Lawyers Association, FWD.us etc.), presented to congressional staff. The meeting was closed to the press, which is surprising at first — what lobbyist doesn’t want his/her message to be spread far and wide? — but the reason for excluding the press turns out to be quite startling.
The TITLE of the briefing says it all: FACTS YOU CAN USE To Prove That High-Skilled Immigration Is Good for the Economy. Prove to whom? Since the “you” is the congressional staff, it’s clear that the briefing is intended to help politicians convince their skeptical constituents that H-1B is good for them. I assume there is nothing illegal in that, but it is incredibly sleazy.
The document itself consists of a rehash of “studies” done by various industry-funded researchers in the last couple of years (even some of the misquotes are rehashed). I’ve refuted those arguments before and thus won’t do a point-by-point rebuttal here. But what is fascinating is the arguments presented verbally at the briefing, ranging from the silly to the bizarre. I’ll discuss a few of them here.
H-1B workers increase native-born worker wages because, while it is true they do push some STEM workers out of their field, those workers counterintuitively go on to higher paying jobs…
The reason only 1 in 4 STEM graduates work in STEM fields is also largely because our economy is so flexible they can instead go into fields like management, healthcare, law, or finance.
This is a standard Giovanni Peri argument, in which he says displacement is fine because the Americans can then become lawyers and the like. (The written briefing document says that they become IT managers and executives, but of course there aren’t enough such jobs to accommodate even a small part of the American workers.)
It’s amazing that the lobbyists actually admit H-1B displaces some Americans out of STEM. In a sense they have to admit it, since this was the major finding of one of Giovanni’s own early papers, and of course incidents like the recent one in which SCE replaced American ITers by foreign workers make the point obvious. But still, quite remarkable that the lobbyists have gotten to the point of admitting this, albeit only verbally and without the press present.
Equally amazing is the apparent concession that H-1B does reduce overall STEM wage levels. Again, they have to admit this, as even the pro-industry Brookings researchers and even the NRC report (with representatives from Intel and Microsoft on the commission) admitted so.
But in making these concessions, the lobbyists seem to be working at cross purposes with themselves. On the one hand, they say that tech is vital to U.S. interests and thus they promote getting more Americans into STEM, while on the other hand saying that it’s not a problem that H-1B suppresses STEM wage growth and thus discourages Americans from pursuing STEM careers.
Do the lobbyists think it’s important for Americans to go into STEM, as they’ve said repeatedly, or not? They can’t have it both ways.
Another statement made by the lobbyists at the briefing:
Wage growth in STEM jobs has been higher than in other fields in recent years. It’s just been slow because the economy has been so weak.
Hal Salzman and others have cited government data showing that STEM wages have been flat, including specifically in IT. I’ve cited NACE data showing that salaries for new Computer Science graduates are DECLINING. The lobbyists are apparently conceding this too, and trying to obfuscate by putting this ridiculous spin on the data. But they cannot get around the salient point: Lack of wage growth means we do NOT have a labor shortage. Period.
Defining what constitutes a STEM graduate is tricky because things like majoring in Medieval Studies counts as STEM.
Clearly, the speaker didn’t mean this literally, and his/her point was that even if there is no shortage in lots of fields defined as STEM, some areas like Computer Science do have a shortage. But again, I point to the fact that CS salaries are not rising, thus NO SHORTAGE.
Immigrants (over a recent time period I didn’t catch) are responsible for 80 percent of economic growth in the STEM economy, and 40 percent of the growth in the overall economy.
Critics of high levels of immigration interpret such statistics (if true) as saying that immigrants are taking most of the new jobs. As Hal Salzman has shown statistically and I’ve observed anecdotally, it’s certainly true for software engineering jobs.
This is a classical example of a fallacy stemming from lack of a counterfactual. What if we had NO immigration? Would the STEM economy grow 80% less? Do they really believe that?
But again, putting these absurd arguments aside, what is most troubling about this briefing is the message, which seems to boil down to, “We in the industry are paying you in Congress good money, so you had better vote our way. If your constituents don’t like it, here’s how to fool them into seeing things your way.” I must again quote Senator Grassley, “No one should be fooled.”