Hillary: Foreign Workers First
But United States already has glut of science, tech, engineering, and math workers
Hillary Clinton thinks the problem with the American economy is that too many foreign students return home after earning advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) from American universities.
Her fix? Hand out more green cards.
“This is another example of Hillary Clinton siding with big business over the interests of American workers.”
“As part of a comprehensive immigration solution, Hillary would ‘staple’ a green card to STEM masters and Ph.D.s from accredited institutions — enabling international students who complete degrees in these fields to move to green card status,” reads a policy paper that her campaign published last week.
Critics of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s proposal, however, contend that America already has a glut of STEM graduates. Adding more will only increase competition for scarce jobs and depress wages, they said.
“This is another example of Hillary Clinton siding with big business over the interests of American workers,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA. “You hear this myth that there are not enough American workers to fill those tech jobs. But, really, there are.”
A number of studies have documented a surplus of STEM-educated graduates. In 2014, the Census Bureau reported that 74 percent of people with bachelor’s degrees in STEM disciplines were not employed in a STEM field. A report by the Center for Immigration Studies found 12.1 million U.S. residents with STEM degrees in 2012, but only 5.3 million people were working in STEM fields. Only about a third of American-born STEM graduates were working in a STEM occupation.
“It is not clear that the United States is producing enough jobs for its college graduates, particularly in the STEM fields,” said report author Steven Camarota, the center’s director of research.
Sessions Blasts Clinton
Sen. Jeff Sessions, the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, blasted Clinton’s proposal last week.
“Young Americans graduating with master’s degrees and Ph.D.s in these fields have sacrificed their time and energy to pursue a career in the STEM field — often at the encouragement of policymakers and national leaders — and oftentimes carry the burden of substantial student loan debt as a result,” he said in statement. “Further saturating the STEM labor market will limit their ability to obtain high-paying jobs that will allow them to pay down their debt and pursue the occupation of their choosing.”
[lz_table title=”STEM Worker Shortage?” source=”Center for Immigration Studies”]Immigrants with STEM degrees are more likely to work in STEM than U.S.-born Americans.
Norman Matloff, a University of California at Davis computer science professor who has studied foreign labor in the U.S. computer industry, argued that simple economics demonstrates why flooding the labor pool with more STEM graduates would harm workers.
“Supply and demand. What else can I say?” he emailed in response to questions by LifeZette. “The effect would be negative for U.S. citizens and permanent residents … No serious study has found a STEM labor shortage.”
Math graduates in particular are in plentiful supply. Camarota’s report determined that only 2 percent of U.S.-born math degree-holders were working in a math job — and only 22 percent were working in any STEM occupation. From 2007 to 2012 — during the worst years of the financial collapse and its aftermath — Census Bureau data indicate that 700,000 new immigrants with STEM degrees moved to the United States, while the number of STEM jobs rose by only 500,000.
[lz_table title=”Foreign Graduate Students in U.S” source=”Institute of International Education”]Year,Enrollment
If demand for STEM workers was outstripping supply, it should show up in rising wages, Camarota said. But that has not been the case, with a few exceptions, he added. Inflation-adjusted hourly wages increased by .7 percent a year from 2000 to 2012 for STEM workers. The increase in annual wages was just .4 percent a year.
“Hardly what we would expect with some sort of massive shortage,” he said.
Most Foreign STEM Grads Already Stay
One exception where there has been a big spike in wages is petroleum engineers, whose average annual salary ballooned from $86,448 a year to $139,300 from 2000 to 2007 amid a domestic energy boom. Wages leveled off after the recession.
Experts pointed to one factor that might limit the impact of Clinton’s proposal: Various temporary visas and permanent residency programs are already available to many foreigners who get advanced degrees in the United States. For instance, foreign STEM students can participate in an employment program known as Optional Practice Training for 29 months after graduating. It is a program that has come under fire from critics who contend it is an end-run around limits on the number of temporary foreign workers.
A 2012 study by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education on behalf of the National Science Foundation found that about two-thirds of foreigners who earned Ph.D. degrees were still in the United States a decade later.
“Most students find a way to stay anyway,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.
But Vaughan said Clinton’s proposal could create “a huge incentive for people to come to school here just to get the green card.”
Currently, employment-based green cards are capped — but student visas are not. That means Clinton’s plan would require an exception allowing the cap on green cards to be exceeded. Even without that inventive, the number of foreign graduate students has increased, rising from 296,574 in the 2010/2011 academic year to 362,228 in the 2014/2015 year, according to the Institute of International Education.
“The hallmark of U.S. immigration policy is unintended consequences,” Camarota said.