Many years ago, in response to a colleague saying a certain appropriation was “only” a billion dollars, Senator Everitt Dirksen famously replied, “A billion here, a billion there, it adds up!” Such common sense (not to mention such dry wit by a politician) is rare in this era in which the slick industry PR people prey on widespread innumeracy in the press and Congress.
Advocates for more liberal immigration policies like to dismiss concerns about the H-1B work visa program by pointing out that the yearly H-1B cap is minuscule compared to the total labor force of the U.S. Of course, a 10-year-old could see through that argument; the visa is usable only for certain kinds of jobs, so it is absurd to compare to the total labor force.
Tech companies like to make statements like, “Only 5% of our workers are H-1Bs.” A 10-year-old might partly see through this one — again, a tech company has lots of NON-tech jobs, so the 5% is not a fair figure — but he/she would not see the subtleties, nor would most adults. There are various other visa types — O-1 is very common, and even Silicon Valley now uses L-1 a lot — and much more significantly, there are tons of former H-1Bs, now with green cards or naturalized citizenship. They are now Americans, at least in the latter case, but they are in the workforce due originally to the H-1B program.
Most H-1Bs, especially among the Indians, are software developers. According to the BLS, there are about a million people in the U.S. in that line of work. It’s somewhat higher than that, due to job title issues, so don’t treat it as an exact number, but take it as ballpark. Now compare that to a figure cited by Republican Representative Kevin Yoder, that 700,000 Indian nationals are currently waiting in line for employer-sponsored green cards. Again, take this as a rough figure, as some of them are not software developers, while some ARE software developers but without such a title, and so on.
My point, of course, is then that 700,000 is a large number when compared to that base of 1 million. Indeed, this jibes with various analyses finding that large fractions, if not most new software development jobs are going to foreign nationals. Anyone should find that alarming.
The industry spin on this is that the foreign workers are remedying a tech labor shortage, and the “alarming” thing is that this indicates severe problems with our educational system. But no numerical study, at least to my knowledge, has shown such a shortage, during all these years of such a claim by the industry. The big institutional ones, such as by the NRC and DOC back around 2000, failed to find a shortage, and more recent ones, e.g. by Daniel Costa and Hal Salzman, also find no shortage. Wages for software developers, including for new graduates, have been rising only slightly, clearly counterindicating shortage claims. (And if that is due only to H-1Bs filling in the shortage, so that we have “just enough,” why does the industry want more?)
And, as to the notion that employment in the tech area is only a small portion of the U.S. labor force, keep in mind that all sides agree that it is a CRUCIAL part, vital to the nation’s future.
So 700,000 seems like a huge number to me.