Orrin Hatch wants more STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math – visas issued. In other words, the H1-B visas that are supposed to be for foreign skilled workers to fill gaps in the supply of needed high-skilled workers. There is a current cap, (it is unclear whether the cap includes the L1-A and L1-B visas for executives and employees with specialized knowledge), that is around 115,000 a year. Hatch, induced by tech firms like Cisco, Facebook, Microsoft and many others, wants that cap raised to about 200,000 a year. The big tech guns can’t get the talent they need in America, so the argument goes, and need a streamlined and expanded immigration program that fills their need. Hatch’s colleague Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, disagrees. And studies seem to support the senator from Alabama: there are more than enough qualified Americans, even in the software field, even when grouped regionally as Bright.com – a San Francisco based firm – did in their study of the problem.

So the evidence suggests the shortage claimed by tech firms may not exist to the extent they claim it does, or at all. It is hardly a leap to conclude that wages is an important factor, as well as a natural tendency to work harder and smarter when you come from a relatively poor country. Oh wait, many H1-B workers had to be trained by their soon-to-be-laid-off American counterparts in order to actually be able to do the work. And it’s not just a question of where you were born that bothers tech owners. Facebook’s Zuckerberg in an interview stated “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical … Young people are just smarter… We may not own a car. We may not have a family. Simplicity allows you to focus on what’s important.” Are you in your late 30’s or older. Are you raising a family? Do you want to work at Facebook? Your chances do not look good, especially if you are born and bred in America. While the nature of working on code and it’s all-consuming demands on one’s time are part of the nature of the software industry, keeping costs down is a big part of their strategy as well.

So do tech firms in fact want an oversupply of labor to ensure wages remain stagnant? And whose business is it? Is it better to allow more H1-B holders and the less visible L holders in to ensure that Facebook doesn’t move it’s main operations to Bangalore, the one in Southern India, for example? The future of work is a fascinating and disturbing topic and is and will be debated by industry lobbyists, academics, and others for years to come, but right here and now it’s Senator Sessions who holds the best argument. You don’t have to come from India or China or Eastern Europe to be the best and brightest, although you might be the cheapest. They are right here in America, in places like Alabama, an enormously competitive and inviting jurisdiction for all sorts of businesses from auto to aerospace to set up shop, and even from Utah, where more than a few grads from say Brigham Young would be most willing to do a great job for companies like Facebook. Software has revolutionized the world, no question. But real people are still sitting at the keyboards and the industry’s push for higher caps on H1-B and L visas should not be a priority. It may be some years before skilled wages rise enough in places like India and China to retain more of their grads, but the US is under no obligation to act as a job placement center for them until that time finally comes.

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