H-1B visas make STEM careers unattractive to American students

June 10, 2013

The idea that H-1B visas tend to reduce the attractiveness of science and technology jobs for U.S. residents got more visibility recently thanks to Norm Matloff, a computer science professor at U.C. Davis. Matloff penned a piece for the financial journal Barron's in which he explained the case for reforming U.S. policies on work visas.

"Contrary to the claims of tech-industry lobbyists, the U.S. isn't generally getting 'the best and the brightest' immigrant engineers and scientists," writes Matloff. The reason, he says, is that 20 years ago, the Immigration Act of 1990 replaced the old work visa, called Aliens of Distinguished Merit and Ability, with the version we have today, called Specialty Occupations and Fashion Models. Effectively, the change flooded the U.S. with foreign tech workers of lower quality than before. Moreover, it also resulted in foreign students of lower quality entering into U.S. doctorial programs, he says.

"The impact of the foreign-student and H-1B programs has been to displace American students from STEM fields. Since the average quality of the foreign students is lower than that of the Americans, the result is a net loss of quality in our STEM workforce," Matloff writes.

To make matters worse, the Senate is currently considering an immigration bill that would grant special green cards to all foreign students earning advanced STEM degrees at U.S. schools, regardless of their quality. "Any foreign student, even with mediocre grades at an undistinguished state college, would quailify," Matloff points out.

If that piece of legislation passes, get ready for even lower salaries for U.S. STEM workers.

Unfortunately, Matloff's Barron's article can only be viewed by Barron's subscribers, but his web page covers many of his arguments.

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