Unemployment For Electrical Engineers And The H1B Cap
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Unemployment for electrical engineers continues to increase. The 8.6% unemployment is bad enough, but the number is an underestimate because it doesn't include EEs that are underemployed, or who found a job in a lower paying non-engineering job. There is plenty of evidence that unemployment statistics for engineers and computer/IT are error prone because these individuals are usually more resourceful than the general population at finding survival jobs. Dr. Robert Rivers once estimated that the total number of surplus engineers is 3.3 times the official unemployment rate which means that right now the real unemployment rate for EEs is about 25%.

This study is old in terms of the numbers, but the reason for the errors hasn't changed:"NEVER A SHORTAGE, ALWAYS A SURPLUS", American Engineering Association Manpower Bulletin Vol. 1, No. 2, July 1999

Patrick Thibodeau got in a good jab at IEEE in the last paragraph of his new Computerworld article.

"The H-1B cap was set at 195,000 in fiscal year 2003, but it was reduced to 65,000 in 2004. When the unemployment rate fell, the engineering association said the decline mirrored the reinstatement of the H-1B visa cap "to its historic level of 65,000." But this time around, the IEEE-USA isn't drawing a connection between engineering unemployment and the H-1B visa program."

Electrical engineers see job losses at record levels | IEEE-USA says engineering is a bellwether for recovery, by Patrick Thibodeau, Computerworld July 7, 2009

His remark is a bit misleading though, because the IEEE has criticized H-1B in the past while at the same time supporting unlimited importation of foreign engineers with instant green cards visas. They refuse to make any connection at all between EE unemployment and the importation of foreign engineers.

It's interesting to note that there are still plenty of H-1B visas available for fiscal year 2010. As many as 20,000 visas are up for grabs that count towards the cap. It seems that companies aren't even hiring H-1Bs!

As of July 3, 2009, approximately 45,000 H-1B cap-subject petitions and approximately 20,000 petitions qualifying for the advanced degree cap exemption had been filed. USCIS will continue to accept both cap-subject petitions and advanced degree petitions until a sufficient number of H-1B petitions have been received to reach the statutory limits, taking into account the fact that some of these petitions may be denied, revoked, or withdrawn.[USCIS]
Last year it took just a few days to give out all 65,000 visas, and in FY 2008 it took only a day. So far the stampede for visas that H-1B advocates were predicting hasn't happened — and yet corporations continue to claim that the cap must be raised in order to avoid a national emergency.

So, is the slowdown in H-1B hiring good news or bad for American engineers?

In my opinion the trend doesn't bode well for American high tech workers because they usually have to wait in the back of the line for jobs until all of the H-1B visas are used up. If employers aren't hiring H-1Bs they aren't hiring American engineers either. Last year high-tech workers started to find job opportunities — but only after the cap was reached.

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