Searching for Skilled High-Tech Workers Some employers say they are having trouble finding adequately skilled workers. Are foreign-born workers the solution? Microsoft thinks so — this fall, the company is opening a software development center in British Columbia to attract qualified computer scientists who can't get visas to work in the U.S.
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Searching for Skilled High-Tech Workers

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Searching for Skilled High-Tech Workers

Searching for Skilled High-Tech Workers

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Up next, the debate over the use of high-tech, high-skilled workers on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

We're going to be talking now about some developments in that field. Let's (unintelligible) for - well, for example, this fall, Microsoft plans to open a software development center in Richmond, British Columbia, just up with the road a piece from Redmond Washington. And Microsoft is a beloved institution in Redmond, so why go over the border to Canada? When asked, Microsoft officials cite the expected corporate talking points, including the exciting fledgling high-tech industry that's near Vancouver.

But dig deeper into the company's statement and there's a more compelling perhaps reason. The move, quote, "allows the company to recruit and retain highly skilled people affected by immigration issues in the United States." Microsoft and other high-tech companies have been lobbying hard for changes to the visa system that limits the number of foreign-born workers coming into the country to fill science, math and engineering jobs.

They say there's a real shortage of highly skilled workers in the U.S. and we need to allow more foreign workers into the country to do those jobs. Critics though are crying foul. They say there's no real worker shortage and that companies can fill jobs of U.S. workers. Some critics claim companies are abusing the current skilled worker visa system, bringing foreign workers to train for jobs here and then moving those jobs overseas, leaving U.S. workers without jobs.

So for the rest of the hour, we're going to take a look at the immigration of high-skilled workers. Is the shortage real with jobs needing to be filled by foreign workers? Or is the shortage one of the - the money - is the shortage really of money? Or companies are looking for cheaper overseas labor. Our number 1-800-989-8255. Excuse me. 1-800-989-TALK. And you can surf over to our Web site at, or look for the avatar in Second Life at SciSchools(ph) over there and we'll take questions there in Second Life.

Let me introduce my guests. Martin Lawler is the author of "Professionals: A Matter of Degree," published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He's an immigration lawyer with Lawler & Lawler in San Francisco. He joins us today from the studios of KQED. Welcome to the program.

Mr. MARTIN LAWLER (Immigration Lawyer; Author, "Professionals: A Matter of Degree"): Why, thank you, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Ron Hira is author of "Outsourcing America: What's Behind our National Crisis and How We Can Reclaim American Jobs." That's out, published in 2005. He's a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute and assistant professor of Public Policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. He joins us today from WXXI in Rochester. Welcome to the program, Dr. Hira.

Dr. RON HIRA (Public Policy, Rochester Institute of Technology; Author, "Outsourcing America: What's Behind our National Crisis and How We Can Reclaim American Jobs"): Thanks for having me on.

FLATOW: Let's talk about - let me get into the Microsoft outsourcing. Is that the right way to call it?

Mr. LAWLER: Well, Ira, the - Microsoft has been talking about this for quite a few years. And their executives were on Capitol Hill this last summer when immigration was being debated, and they're talking that they have 3,000 unfilled jobs. And they just can't enough visas. The system set up now has two basic components for scientists and engineers. One is for people of extraordinary ability. You don't have to be an Einstein, but you had to be at the top of your field. And there are temporary visas and green card processes for these individuals, and that system works pretty well. There's starting to be some shortages, which concern us.

The other aspect is for the people who are not necessarily at the top of their field - the professionals, the engineers, the employees at Microsoft in the lower-level positions. And typically, we have a foreign student who will graduate from the university, get a one-year work permit, and then they'll move on to get an H1-B visa, which is a temporary work visa for - valid for three years, with a three-year extension in most cases.

And then, Microsoft or their employer can file papers with the Department of Labor and sponsor them by proving that there's a worker shortage and they can then get a green card. This latter system is very broken. There are just not enough visas, either temporary visas or green card visas. It's taking it years and years and years. And companies like Microsoft are now looking at setting up operations overseas because they can't get the workers they need.

FLATOW: Well, give me some of the numbers for this year that you're talking about.

Mr. LAWLER: Well, this year, their limit by statue of 65,000 H1-B numbers. And in April first - the very first day that the numbers became available or the visas became available - they received 123,000 visa applications. They got so many that the immigration service had to hold a lottery to determine who is going to get these visas. There's also an extra 20,000 visas for masters and PhDs who were educated in the United States. And those numbers were used in 30 days.

FLATOW: Let me get a counterpoint from Ron Hira. Ron?

Dr. HIRA: Sure. Well, you know, Mr. Lawler has covered a lot of different ground. But let me go back to the Microsoft issue. What's interesting about it was the timing of the press release and, of course, Microsoft has been lobbying this issue very hard, so I don't think we should read - I mean we should keep that in mind when we look at this. But if you look at Microsoft's numbers, they've about a 90 percent offer acceptance rate. That means when they offer a position to a job candidate, 90 percent of the time, they accept.

And they get tens and - literally, tens of thousands of resumes from qualified people all the time. Why they moved to Canada, I think was for many multiple reasons. And certainly they were able to use this quite cleverly, I think, timing-wise to get good press for their immigration advocacy position. But the problem for Microsoft really is that they are being crowded out by companies that are using the program for cheap labor.

And so it's a little bit odd to me that Microsoft has not sort of acknowledged that the problem in the system is that most of the visas are being gobbled up by offshore outsourcing firms trying to transfer work overseas and also using it for cheap labor. So that's really the better way of thinking about the problem in terms of trying to come up with solutions for Microsoft.

And there's a counterexample to the Microsoft issue, which is Wipro, which is a major offshore outsourcing firm, has recently announced that they're going to open up a development center outside of Atlanta, in part because they can't bring in as many H1-Bs as they would like, so they're actually being forced to hire Americans, which is a change in their business model.

FLATOW: So you're saying there are enough people to fill the high-tech jobs here? That we don't have to bring people in from outside?

Dr. HIRA: Well, what I'm saying is we really don't know because there's no labor market test for the H1-B. So there's no requirement for you to bring in a guest worker, to first look for an American. And, in fact, you can replace Americans. Now, why would a company do that? Well, because there's loopholes in the law that allow companies to pay those H1-B, those guest workers, lower wages. And because of that, there's a strong incentive to bring them up.

So there's really no way for us to determine based on the fact that the H1-B quarter got filled up, that that's due to any kind of labor market shortage because there's no labor market test in the program at all.

FLATOW: Martin, how do you react to that?

Mr. LAWLER: Well, there is no labor market test for H1-Bs, but many of the H1-Bs, when they go on apply for green cards, have to pass a labor market test. And so that, you know, validates the fact that there is a shortage. There have been a number of studies and statistical analysis of the engineering and math-based and science-based graduates in our universities. And some of them say in the masters degree programs, 50 percent are from overseas. And it's very important…

Dr. HIRA: Well…

Mr. LAWLER: …that we gather up these people and keep them here to, you know, build the products and discover the cures for, you know, cancer and Alzheimer's and other diseases. These people are invaluable.

Dr. HIRA: The way to measure a labor market shortage would be to look at wages. And if you look at wages, wages for scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians have kept pace with the wages for everybody else. So the wage numbers don't show us any kind of shortage. Having said that, what I think is that it makes sense for us to try to encourage the best and brightest to stay here. But we should do it in the right way.

And many of the firms that are the top users of the H1-B program or the top number two in terms of users, Wipro, you know, applied for 19,000 H1-Bs last year; they applied for 69 green cards. So the argument that the H1-B is a bridge towards a green card and that that somehow gives us comfort that there's a labor market in the green card process, doesn't make - doesn't really hold water because these companies are not trying to bring in the workers for green cards.

FLATOW: Martin, why is it so confusing to our listeners here?

Mr. LAWLER: Well, Wipro, according to some of Ron's writing, had twenty-five hundred H1-Bs, not 19,000. And I think that he's counting some papers that are filed at the Department of Labor. And one individual, if he moves from job to job, can have multiple filings with the Department of Labor. Wipro doesn't have any 19,000 H1-Bs in the United States. That's just not true.

Dr. HIRA: Right. But, Martin, to be clear about that, those applications are not just willy-nilly simple applications. Those are attestations that they've looked for American workers first, that they're not replacing the American workers.

So that's the real - that process, those 19,000 applications in one single year, that's the primary safeguard to the American workforce and also to those foreign workers to ensure that they're being paid a fair wage. So to say that that 19,000 is meaningless, I think, is wrong. And it's just basically to say that the safeguards for American workers are meaningless.

FLATOW: Let me bring this up. Because it's not just high-tech companies that are looking for more H1-B visas, and these are visas for high-tech workers, but we have universities, we have biotech companies. They also want to be able to hire large numbers of both foreign-born professional scientists and engineers. It's - is that not true, Martin?

Mr. LAWLER: Oh, absolutely. You know, I have a number of cases. I'm working it right now with people with temporary visas, and they're creating a solar power plant. Another gentleman is creating a scope that you can go through the esophagus(ph), make a little incision in the stomach and you can steer this scope around the body for biopsies and surgery. This man is going to get a Nobel Prize for - medicine. It's just going to change how we do surgery completely.

I have another client who made a major discovery on malaria. You know, malaria is not going to be solved in some backwater place in Africa. It's going to be solved in a major university or research lab in the United States. And another client…

FLATOW: Ron, what about - let me just interrupt because I want to get on to other issues here, because there are so many them. Ron, why would you leave these talented people out? I mean, why not bring them in.

Dr. HIRA: That would be dumb. It would be dumb to do so. And what we should do is not end these programs but have a rational approach to encouraging the best and brightest to come in. The problem is the solutions that Microsoft and compete-American Mr. Lawler are supporting don't make sense, and actually are crowding out some of these top people.

But to go to your, you know, point about scientists and what not, only five percent of H1-Bs have PhDs. And so that's not really representative of what the H1-B program is about. I agree that we need to have a rational high-skill immigration system. I think we can absorb more high-skill immigrants. I think we should encourage them to come here and stay here permanently. And the solutions, really, are in the green card side of things and fixing the corrupted H1-B system. The Durbin-Grassley legislation that's been introduced in the Senate, I think, goes a long ways to do that.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. We're talking about immigration and high-tech workers this hour on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow.

I want to change gears in a little different direction and bring on someone who's actually gone through the system, as they say. She's a scientist from the Netherlands who has gone through this process and joins us now to talk about her experience. Mirjam Zegers is an assistant professor in the department of surgery at University of Chicago in Illinois, and she's talking to us from her office. Welcome to the program, Dr. Zegers.

Dr. MIRJAM ZEGERS (Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, University of Chicago): Hi.

FLATOW: Tell us about your experience and what - how you went through the system and what you've gone out of it and might - maybe some shortcomings and how you might fix it. A lot - it's a big question, yeah.

Dr. ZEGERS: A lot of questions. Yeah. So, I went through a lot of different visas. So I did my PhD in the Netherlands on aspects related to liver development. And after my - finishing my PhD, I decided to go abroad for a couple of years, because I think, generally, in the Netherlands it's - that's being seen - that it's very important for your sense of development to just go somewhere else and see what other people do with other places. And, really, most people go to the United States because that's really, at least, for biomedical research, still, by far, the number one place to do that.

So I initially was planning to go for, like, two or three years for a post-doc research position. So I went to University of California, San Francisco initially on a J1 visa. And, well, like, two years into my research - well, actually, pretty soon, I realized from - well, why America is still number one in biomedical research.

FLATOW: So you wanted to stay here a little longer.

Dr. ZEGERS: Well, actually, yes.


Dr. ZEGERS: So - but because, really, when you come in a place that you see different(ph) in other big research university, you realize that there are so many people thinking about the same problems. And the environment is so intellectually stimulating that I decided to, well, I think I want to stay longer for a couple of reasons, really.

So, the J1 at that time was a maximum of three years. But if you start a new project, which you generally do after finishing up PhD, generally, well, you have to have a lot - you can be lucky and finish something up in two or three years. But generally, it takes longer. And, really, the idea of a post-doc is that it prepares you for a faculty position and that you're ready to take on a real job, basically.

FLATOW: So to make a long story short.

Dr. ZEGERS: Yeah.

FLATOW: I guess, over time, you wound up getting a green card or applying for a green card?

Dr. ZEGERS: Oh, yeah. Right. So initially, so - I extended my J1 for an H1-B visa and I was on that for three or four years or so. And then, what happened is, initially, I was still planning back to go to the Netherlands. But I got more and more - because I'd lost my initial idea, that I got more and more excited actually about staying here. And then I got invited to apply for a faculty position. So, well - and since my husband was here as well and we are both in science and we ended up getting both offers. And that's really a Holy Grail with scientific…


Dr. ZEGERS: …world of science.

FLATOW: So, you locked out on that.

Dr. ZEGERS: Right. So then we decided, okay, well, we're going to stay for the long haul and apply for a green card. And that's how I came in contact with Martin, which, actually, was really helpful in guiding me through the process.

FLATOW: Did you think, and along this way, that you're taking someone else's job who might be Native American?

Dr. ZEGERS: Well, no. So - I didn't even apply for it. I got asked for a job.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. They asked you to stay.

Dr. ZEGERS: They asked me to stay. Yeah.

FLATOW: And so you did.

Dr. ZEGERS: And I did, yeah.

FLATOW: You did. And do you think - you're a pretty typical of - Martin, do you think she's typical of what happens?

Mr. LAWLER: Oh, yes. (Unintelligible) extraordinary ability field indeed. She's doing some amazing research on wound healing and…

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LAWLER: …she has a PHD and she's very accomplished. And this particular person usually can travel through the immigration process with some little bumps here and there and complications. But the system works pretty well for these individuals.

FLATOW: Well, Mirjam, I want to thank you for taking time to be with us, and good luck to you.

Dr. ZEGERS: Okay. Sure. Thank you very much.

FLATOW: Mirjam Zegers, assistant professor in the department of surgery at University of Chicago.

We're going to take short break and lots of people - a very hot issue. We want to talk about high-tech jobs, importing workers and scientists from overseas, staying here, living temporarily. What's your opinion on it? Our number 1-800-989-8255. Also go to Sci Schools in Second Life and look for the T-shirt. We'll be right back after this short break.

I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

We're talking this hour about immigration and high school - high-skilled workers. My guests are Ron Hira, author of "Outsourcing America: What's Behind Our National Crisis And How We Can Reclaim American Jobs." Martin Lawler, author of "Professionals: A Matter of Degree." He's also an immigration lawyer.

Our number, 1-800-989-8255.

Ron, what was wrong with that story we heard?

Dr. HIRA: There was nothing wrong with it. In fact, if you had that same kind of story go through right now, she would have had no problems. She would not have been crowded out of the system, because she would have been employed by some - an employer that was exempt. The problem with this story is that that's not representative of the typical H1-B. As I just gave you the number, its only 5 percent H1-Bs have PhDs. The typical story is someone with a bachelor's or equivalent, which means that they got the bachelor's somewhere else. And the typical story is that their paid very little wages.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Ron, do you agree? I mean, Martin, so you agree?

Mr. LAWLER: Martin.


Mr. LAWLER: Well, there is specific rules requiring employers to pay the prevailing wage rate but - as determined by government or private wage surveys, and if employers don't pay those wage rates, then they can be sanctioned and can be stopped from using the H1-B process altogether. And Microsoft and other companies…

Dr. HIRA: That's a…

Mr. LAWLER: …pay this - pay the proper wages. And if somebody's not following the rules, well, then they should be sanctioned.

Dr. HIRA: Well, I mean, these are code phrases that are being used, right? Prevailing wage is a term of art. It's a legal term of art. Let me give you some prevailing wages. Infosys was certified by the Department of Labor meeting the prevailing wage requirement to bring a 100 computer programmers in it, $9.15 an hour. HCL America got 75 computer programmers at $24,000 a year. So as Martin knows, the prevailing wage requirement is really not market wages and it's fairly easy for an employer who chooses to do so to bring in cheaper labor.

FLATOW: And how would you change the law then? What would you - you say…

Dr. HIRA: Well…

FLATOW: …it's broken. It needs to be fixed. What would you do?

Dr. HIRA: That's right. Well, the solution is pretty straightforward. There's a bill that's been introduced in the Senate by senators - it's a bipartisan bill by Senators Durbin and Grassley. And it does really three things. It looks for U.S. - it ensures that all employers have to look for U.S. workers first, that they don't replace as you workers with H1-Bs and L1s, which we haven't talked about at all, that employers should pay…

FLATOW: That's a - quickly, what's an L1?

Dr. HIRA: They…

FLATOW: Now, that you brought it up. Quick. Quick.

Dr. HIRA: Well, an L1 is a sort of sister Visa to the H1-B. It's for intra-company transfers. And many of the same very heavy users of the H1-B that offshore jobs also use the L1 when they can. And in fact, the L1's riddled with even more loopholes. There's no prevailing wage requirement. There's no wage considerations, and there's very little information on them, and there's no cap on that. The third thing that the Durbin-Grassley bill, which is S1035 would do, is it would audit companies to ensure that they're complying with these rules.

Right now, we have no audit mechanism. Only H1-B workers who've - who are whistleblowers really can bring issues up. And there's obvious reasons why H1-B workers wouldn't want to do that because the employer holds this work permit, this guest worker permit.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. HIRA: So the minute the H1-B workers says something, they could be out of status if not out of a job.

FLATOW: Martin, what's wrong with this bill?

Mr. LAWLER: Well, the - you know, I disagree with Ron about it. He's got this visa out here painted as the boogeyman. And I think his concept here, which is a novel theory that somehow we're - these H1Bs are used for outsourcing jobs. You know, it costs the employer twenty-five hundred dollars alone in government filing fees to file one of these applications. They file them in April; they can't use them for another six months.

You know, there's another Visa classification that's been on the law books for years. Congress created this - an H-3 Trainee Visa. This is no secret. It costs maybe $300 in filing fees. A company can bring in one of its foreign workers and, let's say, it's a factory overseas, train that person up, pay them according to their overseas salary, give them a hotel and a stipend here and it would cost, you know, 10 percent of what it would cost an H1-B worker. And if they wanted to outsource jobs that way, they would use the H - they never used an H1.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. HIRA: Well, they can…

Mr. LAWLER: It just doesn't make any economic sense.

Dr. HIRA: Well, I…

Mr. LAWLER: This is a novel thing, which I have never heard anybody talk about. I think it's a red herring.

Dr. HIRA: Well, six of the top 10 firms - let me read them out - of H1-B users: Infosys, Wipro, Tata Consultancy, Satyam, Cognizant, and Patni. All of these are major offshore outsourcing firms; those are six of the top 10 H1-B beneficiaries, employers. And, in fact, the commerce minister of India, Kamal Nath, called the H1-B the outsourcing visa. So, it's not a novel theory, it's -the outsourcing industry itself is saying that this is the visa that they need.

FLATOW: Let me go to the phones, 1-800-989-8255. David(ph) in Oklahoma City. Hi, welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

DAVID (Caller): Hi. Yeah, right now I'm attending a junior college, a sub-branch of a university in Oklahoma. And there's, I would say, hundreds of students that are in training for IT positions. Either they're CompTIA certified working on their Microsoft certification. The workforce is there, the jobs just aren't. And, you know, this is really similar to, like, south of the border, people that come across, willing to work for cash, you know, because they don't want to get set back. You know, those are the jobs Americans don't want, they don't want to work for $5 an hour, you know? Or for cash only. And if you say something that's against the boss' grain, there you go, hey, see you later, we'll find somebody else who can work for you, you know? Just as easy as I got you, I can find somebody else.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

DAVID: And I'm afraid that's the way that corporate America is kind of turning to.

FLATOW: All right. Ron, you would agree with that, I imagine?

DAVID: Exactly, I think Ron's on the same boat.

Dr. HIRA: Well, I think the issue is that there's - there are good employers that are trying to use this in the right way, in a way that its being, at least publicly justified or politically justified. And we should fix this - the program, we shouldn't end it, but we should treat American workers fairly and we should treat these foreign guest workers fairly, too.

FLATOW: Martin, do you think that the cap on visas is just too low?

Mr. LAWLER: Absolutely.

FLATOW: What number should it be, do you think?

Mr. LAWLER: Oh, I think it should probably right be at least triple. The H1-B visa is the steppingstone to green cards. And as I said it in my Wall Street Journal article this summer, a U.C. Berkeley professor has to - analyzed startup companies, and she found that half of the startup companies in Silicon Valley have at least one immigrant founder. And she estimated that these startup companies have created 450,000 direct jobs. Andy Grove is an immigrant, he build Intel what it is today. So, the H1 visas directly relate to a huge amount of job growth and technology development in the United States.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. You can visit science school in SciLand and ask an avatar a question. Khalifari(ph), an avatar there says, we can't they just make it more expensive to hire someone via an H1 visa? Say, 10 percent more than the going average? Is that workable?

Mr. LAWLER: In some respects that already happen. The wages they set forth in the government wage survey is actually - include bonuses. But when the employer goes to calculate their wage, they are not allowed to use bonuses. But - that's surely one possibility, which would make things more difficult.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LAWLER: And add on another layer of bureaucracy.

FLATOW: Rose in - I'm sorry, go ahead.

Dr. HIRA: Yeah, I mean if we look at the actual wage data, H1-Bs - about half of the H1-Bs went to computer occupations, it's a little more than half. And in those occupations, the median wage - so that's, you know, about half - well, 50 percent (unintelligible) were paid $50,000 a year, that was the wage, the median wage for computer occupations. That's below the entry-level wage for IT workers.

Mr. LAWLER: Well, the proper wage for a computer engineer in Silicon Valley is, depending upon which area you're in, it's between $72,000 roughly and about $76,000, according to the government wage surveys.


Dr. HIRA: Well, the problem is at 75th percent, people who actually got H1-Bs in computer occupations, the 75th percent, though, is only $60,000. So it's way below what Martin's saying. Most of the H1-Bs are getting low wages.

FLATOW: Rose(ph) in Evansville, Florida. Hi, Rose.

ROSE (Caller): Hi, how are you?


ROSE: Okay. You know, you are having a very interesting discussion this hour, but you seem to be missing the point.

FLATOW: Make it for us.

ROSE: The point is, we're having illegal aliens coming in and they are taking our jobs away. And I think the root of the problem is that these owners of the company are knowingly giving these jobs to people who they - they know they're not legal. They are giving the jobs at a lower rate and they are not just jobs of picking fruit. They are jobs working with computers. They are jobs working on landscaping, who - a friend of mine lost his job because an illegal alien, a Mexican, came in and he said, I'll take the job for $3 bucks an hour.

FLATOW: So, you're saying the high-tech industry is just a reflection of the rest of what's going on in other jobs?

ROSE: That's exactly right. I feel that those employers, who will hire somebody that they know that are not legal, should be fined, number one, they are not paying taxes on them. Hello, isn't that illegal?

FLATOW: Okay, let me get a reaction. Thanks for calling, Rose. She doesn't have a strong opinion on this, I don't think. But we'd heard this a lot. I mean, she have valid criticism that you hear a lot from different people. That this is flying under the radar screen. Martin, how you react to that?

Mr. LAWLER: Well, our whole immigration system is geared to provide visas for people who are highly educated. And it's completely a different system that allows people to immigrate here if you are highly educated and have, you know, tech jobs, for example. The people who are here from Mexico, cutting lawns, there are many laws that make it extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible for them to ever legalize their status.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8 - let me just get in a quick station break. I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. Talking with Martin Lawler and Ron Hira. Go ahead, Ron.

Dr. HIRA: Yeah, well I think the problem in the high-skill side is not so much the illegality. I think most employers are following the law. The problem is the law is broken. It needs to be fixed. And the other point that the caller makes, which I think is an important one, is that companies, whether it's Bill Gates or, you know, Oracle, or any of these high-tech companies, they don't exist to increase the U.S. economic welfare. They don't exist to increase the number of U.S. jobs; they are compensated by increasing their share price, by increasing profits. And so if they can lobby and get cheaper labor, they certainly will.

FLATOW: So, you would say then and that's why we might see more of these high-tech companies going north to Canada, perhaps?

Dr. HIRA: Well, the high-tech companies could go to north to Canada now.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. HIRA: I mean, and they're certainly moving in droves to India and other low-cost areas. IBM will have a hundred thousand workers in India in the next three years, up from 3,000 just a few years ago at the same time they've been cutting back in the U.S. And that has nothing to do with immigration, that has to do with their business model, which is, again, trying to maximize profits and they're able to - and I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but we have to understand why the companies are arguing for what they want or what they motivation is.

FLATOW: So, to bring this all full circle, you're saying that these companies have a large enough talent pool right here in this country of high-tech workers if they were willing to pay the same going wage, the high wage that is being paid by the workers already there. Would that be fair? Is that your argument?

Dr. HIRA: I would say that we don't know what the answer to that is. What I would say is we can and should absorb more high-skill immigrants. So, I wouldn't say it quite the way you're framing it, what I would say is that we don't know if there's a short flow or not because of all of these loopholes and problems with the law.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. HIRA: What we should do, though, is try to encourage the best and brightest to come here and immigrate permanently and have them play on a level playing field, so that they can bargain just like an American worker and become Americans, rather than being in this, what some people call it indentured servitude in the H1-B.

FLATOW: And Martin, your argument would be that there are still too many jobs even if we were to allow all these visas that we have now? Going on that.

Mr. LAWLER: Absolutely. And, you know, Ron just talks about cost, cost, cost and is, you know, disparaging our best corporations here. And any H.R. person or any employer knows that cost if a factor in hiring people, but you also want excellent workers. And you need people to perform certain skills. And so there are many, many factors taken into a hiring process, it's not just cost. The people of these large technology companies, which are driving our economy, they're not just going out and trying to find the cheapest worker they can possibly find, regardless of anything else.

Most of them, I'm sure, rather hire Americans than going through all this hassle with the H1-Bs and all the expense. But we just don't graduate enough scientists and math-based graduates from our universities. And those that we do frequently are people from overseas, and that we need to incorporate these people into our economy. And that's what going to make our economy vibrant and grow. As all of us baby boomers here go off into retirement, well, you need somebody to be running this economy.

FLATOW: But Ron is saying bring these people in, isn't it? Martin, he's saying, go ahead, go hire these people, but let them, you know, become full time, full members of the society.

Mr. LAWLER: Well, what he's doing is he says, sure hire them for their green cards, but he just wants to basically eliminate the H1-B visa, which is a critical step for people to be here while they go through the slow immigration process.

FLATOW: Ron, is that what you're saying?

Dr. HIRA: No, in fact I've said about three times, I think, during this broadcast, that I don't think that the H1-B should be abolished. I think that we should have a way to fix the H1-B system, so that American workers are not disadvantaged and that foreign workers are paid at market wage. And we need a rational process to a green card. It's unreasonable for many of these workers who want to get a green cards and their employers are sponsoring them, to wait six, eight, or 10 years for a green card. So, there's lots of problem with the program, they can be fixed and not…

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HIRA: …and I see that, you know, the H1-B system has been a very valuable one in many cases, the problems is it's been corrupted.

FLATOW: All right, we'll have to leave it right there and pick it up later. I want to thank my guests. Ron Hira, author of "Outsourcing America: What's Behind Our National Crisis And How We Can Reclaim American Jobs." He's also assistant professor of Public Policy at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester. Thank you for joining us, Ron.

Dr. HIRA: Thank you.

FLATOW: Martin Lawler, author of "Professionals: A Matter of Degree." He's also an immigration lawyer with the Lawler & Lawler in San Francisco, California. Thank you, Martin, for taking time to be with us.

Mr. LAWLER: And thank you, Ira. Nice to talk with you, Ron.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

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