Yes, we do need high-skilled immigrants because we don’t have enough qualified workers. Contrary to a widely publicized report claiming that a tech-talent shortage is a myth, A new Brookings Institution study confirms our argument that there is a shortage and businesses need immigrants to fill the innovation vacuum.
“This report matters because accurate facts about h1B and STEM shortage is important as congressional debate moves forward about increasing the number of h1B visa and allowing more foreign STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] workers to stay in the US,” author Neil Ruiz tells me in an email, which is a not-so-subtle jab at the controversial Economic Policy Institute report claiming the opposite.
Conclusions bolded for your scanning convenience.
The Debate, In Brief
Earlier this month, the Economic Policy Institute made national headlines for a study claiming that there was no technology talent shortage, and the foreign worker visa program (H1-B) was largely a ruse to exploit cheap immigrants at the cost of natives. They argued:
- There is a surplus of American graduates with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) degrees
- Wages for STEM careers are stagnant; if there was a dearth of applicants, wages would rise to attract more workers
Because of the EPI’s famously anti-H1-B stance and the fact they didn’t use common statistical techniques to control for worker demographics (like age), a lot of experts in the field wigged out. Now, a Brookings Institute study aims to quantify the wigging outage, for ammo against EPI and in support of the technology community, which has cried for a long time that the U.S. needs more foreign talent.
1. Employers Wait Months To Fill Positions
As our own technology sources have been telling us, we know there’s a shortage in qualified STEM workers because positions can go months unfulfilled. 43% of jobs in areas that commonly seek H1-B employees are unfilled after at least a month.
2. High-skilled Immigrants Earn 20% More
Rothwell and Ruiz find that H1-B workers earn, on average, 20% more than their native counterparts, which jives with previous research comparing immigrants by age, education level, and English-proficiency. In part, this finding still exposes a dark side of high-skilled immigrants: they inject a fresh pool of young applicants who are willing to work for less pay than their older, mid-career counterparts.
3. Wages Are Growing
Contrary to the Economic Policy Institute’s conclusions, the researchers find that wages in STEM fields are growing, adjusted for inflation ( 8% vs. 0% for all workers, from 2000 to 2012). At our request, they looked at data from the Department of Labor’s Current Population Survey, finding “In the three major STEM categories (Computer and Math Occupations; Architecture and Engineering; and Life, Physical, and Social Sciences), inflation adjusted median wage growth was both positive and higher than all workers 16 and over,” Rothwell tells me in an email.
(Since this was data they shared with me in an email, I’ve included it in a public Google Doc, for you wonks out there).
Ugh, Economists Debating. Who Should I believe?
When economists debate over numbers, it’s hardly fun for the American public, since they don’t have the mathematical chops to evaluate the facts for themselves. Here’s why I’m gung-ho about the Brookings piece (aside from the fact that I think it’s methodologically superior): you’d have to quite a conspiracy theorist to believe that hundreds of technology leaders could effectively coordinate a lie about immigration reform.
They’re not lying about the fact that they can’t fill positions.
Now, before our critical readers freak out, yes, the H1-B system is rotten with abuse and exploitation. Also, yes, we should be doing a better job of educating Americans. It’s an important debate to have, but let’s get the facts straight first.
Update: A Corrected Table 1 was sent to me by the authors in an email