High tech executives never cease claiming that they face a shortage of skilled U.S. workers with scientific training, so therefore they must have foreigners to do the jobs. The latest such claim is by 100 chief executives of tech companies in a letter to President Obama asking for visas to allow foreign tech students in U.S. colleges to stay here and work. Said the letter: “Yet because our current immigration system is outdated and inefficient, many high-skilled [temporary visa holders] who want to stay in America are forced to leave because they cannot obtain permanent visas.”
Fact Check: What they’re saying is simply far from true. A good refutation was a recent article appearing in The Atlantic 2/20/13 by Jordan Weissmann. He observed: “Politicians and businessmen are fond of talking about America’s scientist shortage—the dearth of engineering and lab talent that will inevitably leave us sputtering in the global economy. But it’s time they start talking about our scientist surplus instead.
Weissmann continued: I am by no means the first person to make this point. But I was compelled to . . . illustrate it after reading a report from Inside Higher Ed. . . . In short, job prospects for young science Ph.D.’s haven’t been looking so hot these past few years, not only in the life sciences, which have been weak for some time, but also in fields like engineering.”
The article had graphs to illustrate the trends. For Ph.D. graduates in the physical sciences, the rate of immediate employment after graduation has declined from 42 percent in 2001 to 28 percent in 2011. During that same interval the percentage who couldn’t find jobs directly after graduation increased from 24 percent to 31 percent. The percentage pursuing post doctoral studies, sometimes for lack of employment opportunities, rose from 34 to 41 percent.
The trends in engineering, a field particularly cited for alleged shortages, were most revealing. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of graduates not immediately employed declined from 59 percent to 38 percent. Those not getting a job upon graduation increased from 27 to 36 percent. Post doctorates went from 14 percent to 26 percent.
These employment trends are simply inconsistent with the claim that we face a dire shortage of people with scientific and high tech skills. Once again, it appears that the companies are facing a shortage of workers to whom they can pay lower wages than they can to Americans.