Keeping Out Technology Workers is not a Good Economic Strategy

Posted on April 21, 2009  Comments (3)

The barriers between countries, related to jobs, are decreasing. Jobs are more international today than 20 years ago and that trend will continue. People are going to move to different countries to do jobs (especially in science, engineering and advanced technology). The USA has a good market on those jobs (for many reasons). But there is nothing that requires those jobs to be in the USA.

The biggest impact of the USA turning away great scientists and engineers will be that they go to work outside the USA and increase the speed at which the USA loses its place as the leading location for science, engineering and technology work. This is no longer the 1960’s. Back then those turned away by the USA had trouble finding work elsewhere that could compete with the work done in the USA. If the USA wants to isolate ourselves (with 5% of the population) from a fairly open global science and engineering job market, other countries will step in (they already are trying, realizing what a huge economic benefit doing so provides).

Those other countries will be able to put together great centers of science and engineering innovation. Those areas will create great companies that create great jobs. I can understand wanting this to be 1960, but wanting it doesn’t make it happen.

You could go even further and shut off science and engineering students access to USA universities (which are the best in the world). That would put a crimp in plans for a very short while. Soon many professors would move to foreign schools. The foreign schools would need those professors, and offer a great deal of pay. And those professors would need jobs as their schools laid off professors as students disappeared. Granted the best schools and best professors could stay in the USA, but plenty of very good ones would leave.

I just don’t think the idea of closing off the companies in the USA from using foreign workers will work. We are lucky now that, for several reasons, it is still easiest to move people from Germany, India, Korea, Mexico and Brazil all to the USA to work on advanced technology projects. The advantage today however, is much much smaller than it was 30 years ago. Today just moving all those people to some other location, say Singapore, England, Canada or China will work pretty well (and 5 years from now will work much better in whatever locations start to emerge as the leading alternative sites). Making the alternative of setting up centers of excellence outside the USA more appealing is not a good strategy for those in the USA wanting science, engineering and computer programming jobs. We should instead do what we can to encourage more companies in the USA that are centralizing technology excellence in the USA.

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3 Responses to “Keeping Out Technology Workers is not a Good Economic Strategy”

  1. gregbo
    April 22nd, 2009 @ 9:04 pm

    First of all, we don’t turn away all talented scientists and engineers who were not born or naturalized here. We have visa programs in place that allow a finite number of such people to enter the US and work.

    Secondly, let’s say that the visa programs stay as they are, indefinitely. Is the sky falling? Are we failing to compete, globally, technically? For example, which country has the superior electification infrastructure – India or the US? Which country has the best motor vehicle transportation infrastructure? Which country has the best emission standards?

    If you want to talk technology, which country supplies the most Internet routers and switches on a global scale? India, China, Russia, or the US? Which country develops the most cost-effective desktop and server hardware?

    I could go on. It strikes me that with the visa limits in place, we are doing pretty well.

    So what is it that we are afraid of? That a few disgruntled people decide to live and work in someplace like Canada, or they return to their home countries? That they decide to form businesses there? They’re already doing that; they’ve been doing that despite the existence of visas. OTOH, they’re not exactly putting the US out of business.

    I could also make the argument here that hiring visa-holding people to do work that those born or naturalized in the US puts an unnecessary strain on our unemployment benefits system. Here in California, the EDD has become so swamped with claims that they’ve had to hire extra people. Arguably, some of those people were displaced by visa holders who were asked to train their replacements. There was no good reason for any of these people to need to draw unemployment checks because they were getting their jobs done. (Otherwise, why would they be asked to train their replacements?)

    Could we improve the STEM education available to US residents? Yes. Are we in danger of becoming technically irrelevant? IMO, no.

  2. Anonymous
    March 13th, 2010 @ 10:26 am

    The way the English Pound is devaluing nowadays I am getting my bags packed ready to go and teach English in Shanghai. It is the only place I know of where workers are in demand.

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    November 24th, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

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