Jobs Americans Can't Do? The Myth of a Skilled Worker Shortage (2011)

The full report is available in pdf format.

Executive Summary

Corporate executives in the tech industry have long called for an increase in pliant, lower-cost foreign labor. They argue that the U.S. is failing to produce a sufficient number of talented scientists and engineers. These claims, however, are based upon no actual evidence and do not hold up to scrutiny. Behind the industry’s calls for guest worker programs that attract the “best and brightest” is the reality that U.S. tech companies are cutting wages by discriminating against qualified American workers, with the full complicity of the federal government. Labor market data clearly indicate that the U.S. has no shortage of qualified scientists and engineers, and economic research demonstrates that immigrants do not make any special contribution to innovation. However, the flood of low-wage guest workers harms American workers and may threaten the nation’s future competitiveness.

Skilled guest worker programs are being abused by employers, putting many Americans out of work and denying opportunities to millions of others. Even with unemployment at a 30-year high, corporate executives who use foreign workers to suppress wages in the tech industry have found support on Capitol Hill and in the White House. It goes against all sense of fairness, and it is astounding to realize, that Americans are being denied job opportunities in America while at the same time politicians are calling for the expansion of guest worker programs that will exacerbate this problem. The argument that there exists a shortage of skilled workers in the United States was not true before the recent recession, and certainly is not true now. Simply put, those who promote the idea of a “shortage” of scientists and engineers do so without regard for labor market evidence or the welfare of American workers.

This report contains the following findings:

  • There is no evidence that there is, or will exist in the foreseeable future, a shortage of qualified native-born scientists and engineers in the United States.
  • The glut of science and engineering (S&E) degree holders in the United States has caused many S&E graduates to seek work in other fields. Less than one-third of S&E degree holders are working in a field closely related to their degree, while 65 percent are either employed in or training for a career in another field within two years of graduating.
  • Wages in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations have not kept pace with those of other college graduates, and in some occupations have actually decreased.
  • The Government Accountability Office found that some U.S. employers acknowledged that “H-1B workers were often prepared to work for less money than U.S. workers” and this factored into the employers’ hiring decision.
  • Nearly 675,000 H-1B and L-1 visa holders were approved for work in the United States in 2009.
  • The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor has never initiated an investigation to ensure that employers are properly paying their H-1B workers.
  • 94 percent of H-1B petitions were approved between 2000 and 2009.
  • In 2008, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) found that 21 percent of H-1B petitions contained a violation.
  • L-1 approved visas rose by 53 percent from 2000 to 2008.
  • From 1999 to 2004, nine of the top ten companies petitioning for L-1 visas were computer and IT (information technology) outsourcing firms.­­

November 2011