The IT community needs to support foreign worker authorization as a potential path to citizenship in order to keep the U.S. globally competitive.
Tier II workers are the implementers. They are highly skilled professionals who know how to take the foundational tools and technologies and turn them into working applications that solve complex real-world problems. They are essential to making things happen.
Tier III workers are the supporters. These IT professionals keep things running. They understand applications and ensure they deliver for their users. They maintain systems that are already built. For lack of a better term, they are tech support. They are the first line of defense in the world of IT.
For IT to work, we need all three tiers of workers. Each tier of worker is critical, and each requires a different skill set, which brings me back to my central point.
Unfortunately, the anti-immigration lobby correctly points out that a lot of H-1B visas are awarded to companies supplying Tier III workers. And as important as Tier III is to the effective deployment and use of technology, when you look at this tier of workers on their own, they don’t exactly look like the answer to our country’s STEM gap and innovation challenges.
I am not qualified to say whether these workers are reducing wages for U.S. workers. What I do know is that the H-1B visa requires employers to pay the prevailing wage as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor. Therefore, if anyone is to blame for wage pressures coming from H-1B workers, it is the U.S. government, not the foreign workers, that is at fault. Personally, I believe it’s more an outcome of general market forces that are demanding ever-greater skills and productivity for the same compensation, but I’ll leave that issue for the economists.
What We Must Do
There are lots of ideas about how to solve the immigration issue, but there are two ideas in particular that we, as IT leaders, can and should support.
First, provide a work visa and a path to citizenship for foreign nationals that graduate with STEM degrees from accredited U.S. institutions. This is a no brainer.
Second, expand the H-1B guest worker program for highly qualified STEM workers from abroad. The magic words here are “highly qualified.” In other words, let’s raise the bar to ensure we are getting the best and the brightest from abroad. And lest you think this is too complex for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), think again because they are already doing it.
There is an immigrant visa known as the EB-1, as well as a temporary non-immigrant O category visa. Both visas are for outstanding people in their particular profession. World-class musicians, ballet dancers, Olympic athletes and top-notch scientists of all types gain entry to the U.S. with these visas. Right or wrong, the standards for these visas, particularly the EB-1, are stratospheric, so they lack the ability to accommodate the wide-scale need for young Tier I and Tier II workers who have not yet made the grade. But what the EB-1 and O visas do prove is that the USCIS is smart to the fact that all professionals are not the same.
On a more personal and grass-roots level, there are two more things to do. First, talk to an immigrant and hear her or his story. It’s amazing to learn firsthand how the light of America still burns bright for people around the world. This will help personalize the issue for you and take it out of the conceptual policy realms of Washington.
Second, get involved in the conversation. Join FWD.us. Tweet a link to this article or talk about it with others. Email or call your congressional representatives and let them know what you think.