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Joe Guzzardi: California Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s Push for More Work Visas Would Hurt Americans

They take jobs from the unemployed, and fewer domestic students are likely to seek STEM-related careers

California Rep. Zoe Lofgren is off and running again with another effort to subvert unemployed American workers.

Despite a 9 percent U.S. unemployment rate (12 percent in California), Lofgren plans to introduce a bill during the next several days that would create a new category of green cards that would be automatically issued to STEM graduates from U.S. research universities. Green cards would also automatically be given to so-called high-skilled immigrants that receive venture capital funding and foreign-born entrepreneurs who start companies that create jobs. Among the major supporters of Lofgren’s proposed bill are Oracle, Google and Intel that, coincidentally, are her major campaign funders.

“We need to look at immigration as a job-creating engine,” Lofgren said.

For political cover, Lofgren suggests that her bill would create protections for American workers by prohibiting their displacement by an H-1B visa holder. But safety provisions for U.S. employees have been in H-1B language since the visa was first introduced nearly 20 years ago. Since then, millions of American engineers have lost their jobs.

Lofgren’s latest push for more employment visas, a concept President Barack Obama endorsed in his State of the Union address, tries to shift the argument over adding more workers into a depressed job market to the “innovations” immigrants may bring to American enterprise.

Researchers at the Urban Institute and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, however, have found that the notion of there being a shortage of American students receiving degrees in science and technology is a common misconception.

If Lofgren’s proposed legislation passes, a shortage of American-born scientists and mathematicians might develop. As University of California-Davis professor Norm Matloff has repeatedly argued, every time a STEM-related visa is issued to a foreign-born worker, American students become less likely to enter the high-tech field.

Matloff refers to this pattern as “internal brain drain.” The H-1B program causes direct and indirect displacement of U.S. citizens, especially of those tech employees older than age 35, while at the same time discouraging young people from going into a STEM field of study in the first place.

According to Matloff, the federal government, especially the National Science Foundation, a $7 billion agency created to “promote the progress of science,” is one of the leading culprits in creating America’s brain drain. In 1989, the NSF was at the vanguard of those pushing Congress to establish the H-1B program. An internal NSF paper advocated bringing in large numbers of foreign-born scientists and engineers for the explicit goal of holding down Ph.D. wages, a policy that would benefit major U.S. corporations. Moreover, the NSF explicitly predicted that an H-1B program might discourage domestic students because of the stagnant wages that it would create.

Under those circumstance, what would prompt a bright young American student to pursue a STEM degree if he knew that at best his income would be flat and at worst, his application would be passed over in favor of a cheaper, foreign-born worker?

During her 20-year congressional career, Lofgren has been an outspoken advocate for more non-immigrant visas and unlimited caps on work-related visas like the H-1B.

Even if Lofgren finds a Republican co-sponsor, no certainty, the prospects for her controversial legislation are bleak. Congress, especially the House, is more concerned about protecting the few remaining American jobs rather than importing foreign-born workers.

— Joe Guzzardi has written editorial columns — mostly about immigration and related social issues — since 1990 and is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS). After 25 years as an English as a Second Language teacher in the Lodi Unified School District, Guzzardi has retired to Pittsburgh. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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