Norm Matloff writes
Now that Obama has been elected, the tech publications are full of stories on what he'll do with regard to IT.
Basically Obama's line has been that we need a "temporary" increase in the H-1B cap, while the nation's K-12 schools ramp up to produce more scientists and engineers. Those who have been following the H-1B business will recognize that as the line the industry lobbyists have been using for the last 15 years or so. And most importantly, it presumes that we have a shortage of scientists and engineers, which has been shown repeatedly to be false.
One thing Obama has really highlighted on the foreign tech worker issue is liberalizing the employer-sponsored green card program, a move largely aimed at pleasing the large number of H-1Bs who are currently waiting for green cards.
Given Obama's strong support from his fellow Senate colleague from Illinois, Dick Durbin, and given Durbin's excellent H-1B reform bill with Sen. Grassley, one would hope that Obama would have a more enlightened view. Well, it turns out that Durbin apparently supports the green card liberalization too, according to a reader of this e-newsletter who talked at length with Durbin's aide recently.
I've explained frequently and in detail in the past why the expansion of the green card program is a bad idea, but I want to emphasize that IT'S AN EVEN WORSE IDEA TODAY, IN THE CURRENT ECONOMIC SITUATION.
The economy is sinking fast, a fact conceded by economists and politicians of all stripes. Major layoffs have already begun. As we all know, the financial industry has lost tons of jobs in the last couple of months. But as people on the Hill may not know, a lot of those jobs are for programmers and engineers. For example, if I recall correctly, the Electrical Engineering Dept. at Carnegie Mellon University stated about a year ago that more than 30% of its graduates were getting jobs in the financial industry.
All experts agree that the tech industry in general will be hard hit as well. For instance, eBay recently announced that it would lay off 10% of its workforce. AMD just announced a layoff today. There have been various others, and again, by all accounts, much more to come.
NOW HERE IS THE POINT: When those green card-awaiting H-1Bs get laid off, they must leave the country if they can't find another employer to sponsor them. But if they are given green cards, they will stay here and compete with other laid-off Americans for jobs. It should be obvious that granting more green cards is absolutely the wrong thing to do in the current situation.
And remember, the green card issue is NOT about "the best and the brightest." While I do strongly support facilitating the immigration of outstanding talents, they come through other green card categories, and do NOT experience the long waiting times the "ordinary" foreign workers face. See for example here.
Now, more than ever, Congress should resist the temptation to liberalize the employer-sponsored green card program.