Guest Editorial

Paul Nachman

Congress prepares to kick tech workers while they're down

Tech companies are laying off workers at the fastest pace since the Dot-Com bubble burst over two decades ago. Amazon, Twitter, Netflix, Shopify, and Meta have all announced deep cuts. Cumulatively, tech firms have axed more than 240,000 jobs so far this year, 50 percent more than 2022's full year total.
Now, Congress is poised to make those laid-off Americans' job hunts harder.
A bipartisan duo of senators, Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Rounds (R-SD), have been trying to sneak their "Keep STEM Talent Act" into the annual, must-pass defense spending bill as an amendment. If it remains in the final version, the provision could add hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to the U.S. tech labor market, thereby boxing out Americans and driving down wages for everyone.
The provision would exempt foreigners who graduate from American universities with master's or doctorates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields from employer-sponsored green-card quotas. In 2022, over 507,000 foreigners were pursuing master's degrees in the United States, and more than 197,000 were pursuing doctorates. The majority of foreign master's and doctorate students study STEM topics.
Not all of those students ultimately graduate, of course. And not all who graduate desire to stay here afterwards.
But it's abundantly clear that "stapling a green card to every diploma," as proponents often put it, would massively increase the number of foreigners competing in the U.S. labor market.
Right now, America allocates 140,000 green cards each year to foreign nationals who've been sponsored by their employers. Most of those foreign employees are already present in the United States on temporary work visas, and they petition to essentially upgrade those temporary visas to green cards, which offer lifetime work and residency privileges (as well as the ability to ultimately apply for citizenship).
In practice, the Durbin/Rounds amendment would abolish that 140,000 annual limit on employment-based green cards, even while it retains the numerical cap in theory. Hundreds of thousands of foreign students, the majority of whom hail from China and India, would understandably leap at the opportunity to work in America, where they can earn salaries many times higher than their home countries.
The massive influx of workers into the tech labor market would increase competition and drive down wages -- it's simple supply and demand. Economists found that "wages for U.S. computer scientists would have been 2.6 percent to 5.1 percent higher and employment in computer science for U.S. workers would have been 6.1 percent to 10.8 percent higher in 2001" if not for the H-1B visa program, which, beginning in the early 1990s, enabled tech companies to import tens of thousands of cheaper foreign workers with college degrees each year.
Big Tech executives have long claimed that America suffers from a shortage of STEM workers and that immigration is critical for plugging the gap.
But America actually graduates about 50 percent more STEM-degree holders than STEM industries hire each year. That explains why only about half of STEM graduates actually find work in a STEM job.
American tech workers are facing the worst industry slump in decades. There's no reason for Congress to kick them while they're down by importing more foreign competition.

Paul Nachman, a retired physicist, is a volunteer in a research group at Montana State University in Bozeman and a founding member of Montanans for Immigration Law Enforcement. This piece originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times.


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