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U.S. workers get a high-tech hosing from feds

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Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says there aren’t enough skilled U.S. workers to meet the demands of America’s high-tech sector.

Despite data showing few such labor shortages, Washington has opened the floodgates for foreign job seekers, radically expanding programs to import hundreds of thousands of science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — workers.

The influx of tech migrants — 690,000 by 2012 — is leaving more U.S. workers by the wayside.

“I quit my job when I saw the writing on the wall,” said John Miano, a computer programmer turned lawyer.

Since exiting the tech field, Miano said prospects for homegrown STEM workers are “getting worse because companies are finding more ways to bring people in from overseas.”

Miano is preparing a lawsuit against the federal government over non-citizen hiring. “They’re granting U.S. immigration benefits as a corporate benefit and providing the means to get cheap foreign labor,” he argues.

Blowing off the cap

Initially capped at 65,000 foreign workers per year, the quota of H-1B (skilled) worker-visas is soaring under constant prodding from such influential Facebook friends as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Intel and IBM

More than one in four U.S. STEM workers is now from overseas.

“Employers tend to give preference to foreign workers over similarly qualified Americans,” said Norm Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California, Davis.

“Most H-1Bs are under 30, and since younger workers are cheaper than older ones — in both wages and healthcare costs — employers use the H-1B program.”

Matloff said U.S. immigration rules effectively “handcuff” the foreign STEM worker to the sponsoring employer.

“The worker dare not switch jobs, as that would entail starting the multiyear green card process all over again.”

Fewer opportunities, lower pay

A new study counters the tech industry’s claims of chronic labor shortages. Confirming earlier research, the Center for Immigration Studies found:

  • Total STEM employment in 2012 was 5.3 million, but there are 12.1 million STEM degree holders.
  • STEM wages (adjusted for inflation) grew a paltry 0.4 percent a year from 2000 to 2012.
  • Americans with STEM degrees are either unemployed or out of the labor force.

Steve Camarota, co-author of the report, called H-1B and several similar employer-based programs “indirect subsidies for businesses.”

Matloff said the federal H-1B prevailing wage formula arbitrarily depresses pay for highly skilled tech-sector workers.

“The law is written in a way that the legal wage is substantially lower than the true market wage,” he argues.

Joe Petrides, a manager at a midsize technology firm in the D.C. area, said he sees “a lot of weird stuff going on” in the industry.

“Companies — especially the largest ones — are pushing for more H-1Bs to keep wages lower,” he said.

And some companies pay up to a 20 percent fee to “third-party bodyshops” to recruit foreign workers, often from India.

Additionally, Petrides said big corporations will steer away from full-time employees.

“Software implementation may just take five testers for eight months,” he said. “I can’t blame the companies. They have obligations to their shareholders.”

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