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Career Watch: A debunker of H-1B claims

Jamie Eckle | April 9, 2013
Computer science professor Norm Matloff is a longtime critic of the H-1B program.

Q&A: Norm Matloff

A longtime critic of the H-1B visa program, the University of California, Davis, computer science professor talks about immigration issues.

Computerworld recently took a look at H-1B visa usage and determined that offshore outsourcers are the largest users. What do you make of that finding? Frankly, this is a red herring. Computerworld's data confirms that most H-1Bs are not employed by the offshoring firms, and in any case, offshoring is an irrelevant issue. An American worker doesn't care whether a job has been shipped overseas or filled by an H-1B here -- either way, that job is not available to this American worker! It's a phony issue.

By the way, the data in my forthcoming paper shows that abuse of H-1B extends throughout the industry, absolutely including the mainstream, household-name firms.  Thus, claims that the main abusers are the Indian offshoring firms amounts to unwarranted scapegoating, maybe even with racial overtones.

H-1B proponents say they can't find the people they need in the U.S. Is there data that supports or refutes that claim? The data is abundantly clear, refuting the claim: Wages in the computer fields are rising at only about 1% to 3% yearly. If there were a labor shortage, salaries would be rising sharply. When we had a gasoline shortage in California last year, prices were up 30% or 40%.

The extensive Urban Institute study of 2007 showed we are producing far more people with STEM degrees than we need. And in a rare moment of candor, a Texas Instruments executive stated in House testimony in 2011 that our educational system is producing plenty of American engineers.

If immigration reform happens this year, what changes would you want to see in policies that affect IT workers? I support the AFL-CIO proposal that the legal prevailing wage for H-1Bs -- I would add green cards to this -- be defined to be the 75th percentile in the given occupation and geographic region. The industry claims it's hiring people with rare skills, so they should pay a premium. Also, I would give "instant green cards" to any foreign STEM grad with a legitimate job offer at the 90th percentile or higher, as they are arguably "the best and the brightest."

Closing the Gender Gap: Is IT a Model?

Though women continue to be underrepresented in the IT workforce (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women held 57% of professional positions in the U.S. in 2011, but they held only 25% of computing positions), the pay gap between the sexes has been closed in IT, according to the Dice Salary Survey.

The survey found that the average annual income for women in IT in 2012 was just over $87,500, compared with nearly $96,000 for men. That doesn't sound equitable, but Dice says men and women tend to hold different positions in the IT workforce, and when you compare equal levels of experience and education and parallel job titles, the difference melts away. That point is borne out by Dice's findings on the top five tech positions held by members of the two sexes.


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