After running as a prominent print magazine for many decades, U.S. News and World Report now serves niche markets, online and otherwise. One of those niches involves education, with the publication not only compiling its famous (and not entirely useless) yearly college rankings report, but also running short conferences on how to deal with alleged STEM shortages.
A September 9 article, “50,000 Foreign-Born STEM Workers May Be Forced Home,” is the first of many “poster children” pieces we will likely see in the media in the coming months. A recent court decision found that the 2008 executive branch action extending the Optional Practical Training part of the F-1 student visa had not been put through the legally required procedures to seek public comment. The judge gave the government until next February to perform a do-over.
The message of the US News article is that, due to some silly judge, the U.S. will lose tens of thousands of talented foreign students. “The deadline is looming,” ominously intones the article. As some of you may recall, the statistical evidence suggests that those students tend not to be so talented after all, but really the salient point is that there is no way this doomsday will occur. The USCIS will pull out all the stops to avoid it, and indeed, I’ve seen immigration lawyers quoted as saying that the court decision will spur the government on to accelerate its planned FURTHER extension of OPT to 6 years.
Meanwhile, a White House petition to retain OPT now has over 100,000 signatures. While it is clear that most signers are foreign students or others with vested interests, the government will treat the petition as “broad public support.” This could be quite embarrassing (if the mainstream media — or Donald Trump 🙂 — gave it good coverage), as the above Computerworld article points out:
The technology workers’ local believes that the OPT program brings in low-wage workers, creating unfair competition. Miano said the OPT action creates a hot political issue for the Obama administration. The administration didn’t act to protect U.S. workers at Southern California Edison and Disney, but “now that foreign workers will be losing their jobs, how would it look if Obama went into overdrive to protect their jobs?”
As usual, the government response to such a charge would be that “foreign students create jobs, not steal them,” the standard “Intels good, Infosyses bad” argument, which sadly many people find convincing.
As with many such articles, the US News piece quotes a couple of employers as claiming they just can’t find qualified Americans to fill their jobs. Yet a glance at their Web pages shows their current openings to be quite run-of-the-mill. They may have to offer higher pay, horror of horrors, but they could get good workers domestically if they wanted to.
Well, why don’t they want to? The first, and more obvious reason is to save money, and not just because OPT workers are not subject to Social Security tax. Students are young, thus cheap to hire, and due to the fact that the green card serves as compensation, YES, they will work for less even aside from the age issue. Attorney Whitehill’s claim in the article is absurd; even at cut-rate wages, the students are making much more money here than they would back home, not to mention getting an extremely valuable green card in the process.
The second reason is that the foreign students, if they are being sponsored for green cards, are de facto indentured servants, which is of huge appeal to employers.
Not that I don’t sympathize with the foreign students. I had an extremely talented student from China a year ago, whom I strongly encouraged a Silicon Valley employer to hire. The student was indeed hired, but lost the H-1B visa lottery. OPT will basically give him one more shot at that prize, but without the planned extension, that will be the end.
Yet that misses the point entirely. If, as was the intent of the old H-1 program, H-1B visas were given only to “the best and the brightest,” my former student wouldn’t have to worry, as the H-1B cap would never come even close to filling up. And Americans wouldn’t have to worry either. Win-win, as they say. Unfortunately, those various parties who would lose are calling the shots.