Career Watch: A debunker of H-1B claims

Q&A: Norm Matloff

A longtime critic of the H-1B visa program, the University of California, Davis, computer science professor talks about immigration issues.

Computerworld recently took a look at H-1B visa usage and determined that offshore outsourcers are the largest users. What do you make of that finding? Frankly, this is a red herring. Computerworld's data confirms that most H-1Bs are not employed by the offshoring firms, and in any case, offshoring is an irrelevant issue. An American worker doesn't care whether a job has been shipped overseas or filled by an H-1B here -- either way, that job is not available to this American worker! It's a phony issue.

By the way, the data in my forthcoming paper shows that abuse of H-1B extends throughout the industry, absolutely including the mainstream, household-name firms. [A preliminary version of the paper is available online.] Thus, claims that the main abusers are the Indian offshoring firms amounts to unwarranted scapegoating, maybe even with racial overtones.

H-1B proponents say they can't find the people they need in the U.S. Is there data that supports or refutes that claim? The data is abundantly clear, refuting the claim: Wages in the computer fields are rising at only about 1% to 3% yearly. If there were a labor shortage, salaries would be rising sharply. When we had a gasoline shortage in California last year, prices were up 30% or 40%.

The extensive Urban Institute study of 2007 showed we are producing far more people with STEM degrees than we need. And in a rare moment of candor, a Texas Instruments executive stated in House testimony in 2011 that our educational system is producing plenty of American engineers.

If immigration reform happens this year, what changes would you want to see in policies that affect IT workers? I support the AFL-CIO proposal that the legal prevailing wage for H-1Bs -- I would add green cards to this -- be defined to be the 75th percentile in the given occupation and geographic region. The industry claims it's hiring people with rare skills, so they should pay a premium. Also, I would give "instant green cards" to any foreign STEM grad with a legitimate job offer at the 90th percentile or higher, as they are arguably "the best and the brightest."

Closing the Gender Gap: Is IT a Model?

Though women continue to be underrepresented in the IT workforce (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women held 57% of professional positions in the U.S. in 2011, but they held only 25% of computing positions), the pay gap between the sexes has been closed in IT, according to the Dice Salary Survey.

The survey found that the average annual income for women in IT in 2012 was just over $87,500, compared with nearly $96,000 for men. That doesn't sound equitable, but Dice says men and women tend to hold different positions in the IT workforce, and when you compare equal levels of experience and education and parallel job titles, the difference melts away. That point is borne out by Dice's findings on the top five tech positions held by members of the two sexes.

Women

1. Project manager

2. Business analyst

3. Other IT

4. QA tester

5. Technical recruiter

Men

1. Software engineer

2. Systems administrator

3. Project manager

4. IT management

5. Application developer

Dice is careful to note that it cannot be determined from the results of its survey whether women and men gravitate to different jobs by choice or whether they are steered by institutional bias. But the online tech careers service did take a closer look at the results when it became apparent that women's average salaries increased by a bit over $2,000 from 2011 to 2012 while men's rose by over $5,000. Dice's statisticians concluded that that large differential was also position-driven: Positions more frequently held by men (such as IT management and engineer) had higher raises than those more frequently held by women (such as business analysts and project managers).

Average Salary by Sex

Women

• 2011: $85,484

• 2012: $87,527

Men

• 2011: $90,771

• 2012: $95,929

And the survey also found that women in IT were slightly more satisfied with their compensation than men:

Very or Somewhat Satisfied

• Women: 58%

• Men: 56%

Source: Dice Salary Survey of 15,049 employed technology professionals, fall 2012

Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies