Warning: Big Business About to Decry Shortages of H-1B Workers

By David North on October 28, 2011

Warning – Big Business is about to start screaming that there is a shortage of H-1B workers – and the annual ceiling must be lifted or there will be serious problems with the economy.

These alien workers have substantial educational credentials, usually in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields and often work in the electronic and computer sectors. Let's look at the numbers more broadly before we get to the alleged shortage.

10,000,000. That's about how many people with STEM training work in this country, but not in the STEM industries. If a high-tech employer wants to hire a computer programmer, for example, he can do so from within this huge pool of workers, but he may have to pay that worker, presumably a citizen or a green card holder, a little more than he would have to pay an H-1B – and employers are loath to do that. Further, some of those workers are considered old (i.e., they are over 35). So the employers about to shout "shortage" can only do so by ignoring these 10,000,000 STEM workers.

2,118,000. That's how many unemployed residents of America, in June, all with college degrees, were looking for jobs. Many have STEM credentials. They too are being overlooked by employers complaining about H-1B shortages, a subject covered in a recent CIS Backgrounder of mine entitled "Is There a Shortage of Skilled Foreign Workers?"

650,000. Suppose the employer is fussy, has ignored the 12,000,000 or so American workers noted above, and insists (illegally) he must have an H-1B; well there is no need to seek a new one within the numerical ceilings described below because there are probably 650,000 or so H-1Bs in the nation at any one time, and all can switch jobs, but the employer would have to compete with a wage higher than what the incumbent H-1B is already earning.

65,000 and 20,000. An employer would have to ignore all three huge groups of workers above, all college graduates, before the impending "shortage" of H1-B workers would impact him. But as a headline in Immigration Daily on October 20 complains: "H-1B Cap Usage Advancing Rapidly – Exhaustion Soon a Possibility".

On the following day USCIS announced that all of the 20,000 annual allocation of H-1B slots for those aliens with advanced U.S. STEM degrees – primarily people with master's degrees – had been filled, as had 46,200 of the 65,000 slots for those with bachelor's degrees. Bear in mind that employers have had the opportunity to file for those slots for more than six months, and if they had filed earlier – or had hired someone from the three large groups noted earlier – they would have nothing to complain about.

But, as the Immigration Daily headline suggests, complain they will.

In some earlier years, when the economy was a bit more active, all of the year's allocations of H-1B workers were gobbled up on the first day that they were available. Not so in recent years.

H-1B is one of several nonimmigrant worker programs run by our government; it is designed to increase the size of the labor force in the high-tech fields, and such increases always reduce wage levels.