Headlines that say H-1B visas drive down US tech wages don’t tell the full story

It’s a tough time for foreign workers aiming to live in the US.
With the raging rhetoric about immigrants stealing American jobs, the current political climate is ripe for a clampdown on the coveted H-1B visa. The Donald Trump administration has already stalled premium processing for this visa, which allows holders to work in the US for up to six years.
Detractors have blamed the H-1B for ramping up competition for jobs, particularly in the technology sector, and for allegedly driving down wages by enabling a supply of cheap labour. A February 2017 study (pdf) by researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of California-San Diego found that in the absence of work immigration from 1994 to 2001, wages for US computer scientists would have been between 2.6% and 5.1% higher by the end of the time period, with employment of US workers in the sector also up by 6.1%-10.8%.
But while it is true that companies such as Cisco and Dell have laid off many US employees to increase their foreign worker uptake—sometimes even forcing them to train their foreign replacements—restricting the H-1B program won’t automatically lead to improvements in wages and employment for American workers.
Skills shortage
In theory, discontinuing the intake of foreign workers should create more jobs for their American counterparts. But as things stand today, there simply aren’t enough qualified people to fill all the positions.
More than 64% of the H-1B visas allocated in 2014 went to people in computer-related occupations because the tech sector is in dire need of foreign talent. IT leaders argue that there is a severe skills shortage (pdf) in the US, making it impossible to replace foreign workers with Americans. In 2015, there were nearly 10 times more US computing jobs open than there were students equipped with computer science degrees.
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Headlines that say H-1B visas drive down US tech wages don’t tell the full story