Study: Lack of H-1B holders would hinder IT growth

A 15-month study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington has concluded that a lack of skilled foreign labor would hinder growth in the information technology sector. But the committee is also urging employers to advance their training efforts for domestic workers.

Congress asked the NAS committee, which included academics, policy researchers and private-sector employees, to investigate high-tech workforce needs, as well as allegations of H-1B abuse and age discrimination cited by immigration opponents. The report, released today, focused on IT workers such as systems analysts, computer scientists and programmers.

The report states that the IT sector would experience a slowdown without H-1B workers. H-1B visas allow skilled foreigners, many of whom are in the IT field, to work in the U.S. for up to six years. The number of H-1B visas issued is restricted by a quota that Congress recently raised from 107,500 to 195,000 (see story).

Herb Lin, director of the study, said the committee couldn't determine an appropriate limit to set for H-1B visas. The report found "no systematic evidence" of H-1B abuse among employers or proof that the use of H-1B workers depressed wages for U.S. workers. But the study did state that the H-1B workforce is substantial enough to keep wages rising as quickly as would be expected in a tight labor market.

"Employers who want to save money [by hiring foreign workers] have more incentive to send work overseas. They don't save much by bringing people here," Lin said.

The study also found no evidence to support broad-based age discrimination in IT. It concluded that while older workers (those over age 40) are more likely to lose their jobs than younger ones, they are as likely to find new jobs as younger IT workers are, and they're likely to find them just as quickly.

The committee cited recommendations on how to better prepare the domestic workforce for IT jobs, including allocating more time for training. Lin said that while "it's clear that employers are doing some training," the study questioned whether it's enough.

"If you look at the kinds of training opportunities, it's small compared to what people suggest is needed to keep up in the field," said Lin.

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