Foreign high-tech workers take jobs from Oregonians

Letter date: 
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Letter publisher: 
Wilsonville Spokeman
Letter author: 
Richard F. LaMountain
Letter body: 

Are foreign high-tech workers a boon to our state? So says (contra the facts, as we'll see) the Michael Bloomberg-founded Partnership for a New American Economy. In its recent study "The Contributions of New Americans in Oregon," PNAE asserts that foreign-born workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are "not just a crucial piece of Oregon's STEM workforce now" but "likely to power it in the future."

As the new year begins, many high-tech firms are readying applications (which they may submit beginning April 1) to import foreign STEM workers via the federal H-1B visa program. Since 2005, each year the program has allowed at least 85,000 workers holding bachelor's and post-graduate degrees to enter the United States. The many Oregon firms that have utilized the H-1B program include Nike, Intel, Tektronix, Lattice Semiconductor and Mentor Graphics.

"Despite making up 9.8 percent of the state's population," reports PNAE, the "foreign-born . . . made up 14.2 percent of STEM workers in the state in 2014." One reason for this, the study suggests, is "the country's ongoing shortage of STEM talent ... (T)he large interest in [the H-1B program] indicates Oregon employers likely were having real trouble finding the workers they needed on U.S. soil."

As we'll see, however, companies' "large interest" in H-1B workers turns on something else entirely. For our country boasts an ample supply of U.S.-born, STEM-educated citizens — untold thousands of whom are being displaced by foreign competition.

"Overall, our colleges and universities graduate twice the number of STEM graduates as find a job each year (in) the STEM workforce," Rutgers University professor Hal Salzman told a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee panel last winter. "Of the entire workforce, only about a third of those with STEM degrees are employed in STEM jobs." In 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that "74 percent of those who have a [STEM] bachelor's degree ... are not employed in STEM occupations."

In their recent book "Sold Out," Michelle Malkin and John Miano, citing a study by's then-chief scientist David Hardtke, wrote that in one recent year there were "1.34 qualified domestic workers for every one position where a company had indicated an intent to hire a foreign worker through the H-1B program."

Still, PNAE persists. "Every time a state gains 100 foreign-born STEM workers with graduate-level STEM training from a U.S. school," claims its study, "262 more jobs are created for U.S.-born workers there in the seven years that follow." The obvious question: Wouldn't an influx of similarly-qualified American-born STEM workers have the same effect?

The truth, as reported recently by a research team led by Notre Dame University economist Kirk Doran, is this: "New H-1Bs substantially and statistically significantly crowd out median employment of other workers."

Contra PNAE, then, our country boasts an abundance of STEM-educated U.S. citizens — who are hurt, not helped, by infusions of foreign high-tech workers. Still, report Malkin and Miano, "foreign guest

workers account for one-third

to one-half of all new [information technology] hires."


Simple: money. "The U.S. Department of Labor," Howard University professor Ron Hira has written, "has affirmed ... H-1B workers can legally be paid much less than American workers." In the IT sector alone, he noted, "firms that rely mostly on H-1Bs are able to generate net profit margins of 20 to 25 percent . . . where we would expect profit margins of six to eight percent." Results like this, writes NumbersUSA's research director Eric Ruark, make clear: the real reason companies use H-1B is "not to supplement American workers but to supplant them."

Today in Oregon, reports the state Employment Department, almost 200,000 people — the great majority of them U.S. citizens — are unemployed, underemployed or "marginally attached to the labor force." Among them: STEM workers displaced by lower-cost foreign competition. To them, and to unemployed Americans in other states, our elected officials owe their first and foremost responsibility. Let's hope President Trump — who has pledged to champion the interests of American workers — and his allies in Congress reject the thinking of the Partnership for a New American Economy, rein in the H-1B program, and work instead to maximize America's and

Oregon's native-born STEM talent.

Richard F. LaMountain, a Cedar Mill resident, is vice president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform (