Dean Baker, an author, macroeconomist and co-director of the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C., has written an essay for Fortune that’s well worth your time. The title says it all: Silicon Valley Needs To Quit Whining About H1-B Visas.
The visa program, which allows tech companies to recruit lower cost STEM talent from other countries, has become an increasingly contentious sidebar to the bigger conversations around immigration, globalization, and business innovation. And, like many debates, both sides have a real point.
From his essay:
But if we are to take the commitment that tech companies claim to have about diversity and inclusion seriously, we’re going to have to spend more time unpacking this issue as employees, customers, partners, and shareholders. First, there’s the fact that the H-1B visa belongs to the company, not the worker. If a recent import hates her job, she has little recourse but to find another company willing to sponsor her or leave the country. The optics of that dynamic are less than ideal.
But there is also the very pertinent issue of overlooked talent of color here in the U.S., the very people whom tech companies are writing big checks to train and recruit from specialized programs. He cites a study from CEPR showing that 10% of black recent college graduates were unemployed and another 32% were underemployed. (An analysis by USA Today showed similarly grim numbers for black and Latinx STEM graduates.)
This pits the business case for diversity squarely against the status quo.
“There are a variety of reason these workers have trouble getting jobs in their field,” Baker points out, “but the point is there are STEM workers who could be hired — it would just cost Apple, Google, and the like more money to hire them.”
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