At Caltech we definitely have computer science majors coming out of our
ears. We have no official undergraduate degree in computer science
here, yet somewhere between a fourth and a third of the undergraduates
here consider themselves to be CS majors.
The problem with New York Times articles like the one below (and
senators like Kennedy and Feinstein) is that they come off sounding
xenophobic at best and racist at worst. What is the big deal of
bringing into the U.S. more highly skilled workers? I think that we're
foolish to turn away ANY skilled workers.
Of course, I may be biased. Some of my best friend are highly skilled
> Committee Clears Bill to Allow
> More Immigrant High-Tech Workers
> By JERI CLAUSING, April 4, 1998
> WASHINGTON -- On the heels of a General Accounting Office report that
> questions the extent of a high-tech industry labor shortage, the Senate
> Judiciary Committee on Thursday passed a bill to let software and
> computer companies bring in thousands more foreign workers.
> The panel, on a 12-to-6 vote, approved a bill by Senator Spencer
> Abraham, Republican of Michigan, that would increase to 95,000 from
> 65,000 the numbers of visas available this year under the so-called H1-B
> visa program. That limit would jump to 115,000 the next year through
> The panel rejected a substitute plan by Senators Edward M. Kennedy,
> Democrat of Massachusetts, and Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California,
> that would have increased the quota to 90,000 for only the next three
> years. It also would have canceled the renewal option that effectively
> extends the term of the three-year visas to six years, and it would have
> imposed a $250 application fee to fund a $100 million training program
> for American workers.
> "The key to our amendment is saying we have confidence in American
> workers," Kennedy said. "These are good jobs with good wages, good
> benefits, good opportunities, and they ought to be American."
> Abraham's bill authorizes spending $50 million for training American
> workers, but there is no guarantee the money will be appropriated.
> Senators opposing the Abraham bill expressed concerns over conflicting
> reports about the extent of the high-tech labor. A study by the
> Information Technology Association of America estimates that about
> 346,000 high-tech jobs are currently unfilled in this country. And
> during a recent meeting of the Judiciary Committee's Immigration
> subcommittee, executives from Microsoft, Texas Instruments and other
> companies lined up to say projects are being canceled and innovation
> threatened by their inability to find enough qualified programmers.
> The Commerce Department issued similar findings in a report last
> But the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress,
> last week questioned both. Although careful to note it was not
> dismissing the notion of a worker shortage, it questioned the response
> rate of the ITAA survey and said the Commerce study had "serious
> analytical and methodological weaknesses that undermine the credibility
> of its conclusions that a shortage of information technology workers
> Abraham, chairman of the Immigration subcommittee, added a provision at
> the request of Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, that the National
> Science Foundation conduct a study of high-tech labor needs for the next
> decade. But that study would not be due to Congress for two years.
> Some academics and workers insist there is no need for either the
> legislation or new studies. They claim the situation is being
> exaggerated so companies can keep their wage costs down.
> "There is no desperate software labor shortage," said Norman S. Matloff,
> a University of California-Davis computer science professor.
> "Any company you talk to will admit that they have tons of risumis. But
> they are unwilling to hire those people. They claim they are unqualified."
> Matloff also cites Bureau of Labor statistics indicating salaries for
> computer programmers rose just 7 percent last year.
> "Just think about it, if you were an employer and were desperate to hire
> someone wouldn't you be willing to pay a premium of more than 7 percent?
> Of course you would," he said.
> Opponents also raised concerns that the bill does not do enough to
> ensure that companies won't lay off Americans to hire cheaper labor.
> But Eric Weinstein, a math professor at the Massachusetts Institute of
> Technology who has been researching the subject, said that is not the
> industries' intent. "The main point of this is not to replace workers
> one by one with cheaper imports; the purpose is to lower the wage level
> in the aggregate."
> "Now, there have been egregious cases of people being forced to train
> their own replacements, but for people in the know this is really more
> of a side issue," he said.
> Another concern is that the shortage of skilled workers is due to the
> American education system's inability to graduate qualified students.
> "This really is a massive indictment of our education system," Feinstein
> said in pushing to limit the visa to three years in hopes of forcing
> quicker changes in education.
> Matloff, however, insists there are plenty of qualified students.
> Although the ITAA study indicates interest in computer science is
> waning, he said those findings are based on old numbers. Just in the
> past year, he said, enrollment in computer science classes has doubled,
> according to the Computer Research Association.
> "We don't have a lack of computer science majors. At my school, at the
> University of Maryland, at Dartmouth -- we have computer science majors
> coming out of our ears. There are 50 students on my waiting list for a
> course that starts Friday."
> He said demand for the field went down with defense spending in the
> early 90's, but has gone back up in response to the job market of the
> past few years. "It's the classic case of reacting well to market
> "These are slick lobbyists. What can I say," Matloff said.
As an economist, I refuse to believe in your altruism. There's some
double-ledger accounting going on here, but you're definitely getting
SOMETHING in return for your selflessness.
-- Rohit Khare