Engineers and Scientists

By David North
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 7, Number 3 (Spring 1997)
Issue theme: "Restraining the American brain"

When U.S. employers hire foreign-born engineers they are much more likely to hire workers with temporary visas than those with permanent status.

Workers with temporary visas, by law, are indentured to their employers. Immigrants with per-manent visas are able, like U.S. citizens, to move around freely in the labor market and thus can better fend for themselves economically.

In fiscal year 1995, U.S. employers petitioned for the admission of 55,860 alien engi-neers with temporary (non-immigrant) visas. That was at least the eighth consecutive year that the num-ber of alien engineers with temporary visas had increased; in fact, there were almost three times as many of them in FY 1995 as there were in FY 1988. (See Table 1.)

Admission of immigrant engi-neers has not stirred much controversy, but there has been a vigorous debate in Congress, and in the industry, about the alleged exploitation of technical workers with temporary visas, particularly in computer pro-gramming and other engi-neering fields. TSC

Table 1 Admissions of engineers immigrants and non-immigrants

FYs 1988-1995

a The Immigration Act of 1990 took effect at the start of FY 1992, and it caused a surge of employment-based immigration that year because one of its provisions eased a backlog situation.

Sources These are the hard counts of immigrants and estimates for non-immigrants based on data from the Division of Statistics, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Washington, D.C. As to the methodology used for the non-immigrant estimates, see the explanation at the bottom of Table 2.

Note There is an unknown but significant overlap between the two columns, as people admitted as non-immigrants often convert to immigrant status several years after their arrival.

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