The motives of Democrats are little more complicated. They like the corporate donations as well, but even better they see increasing STEM immigration as a bargaining chip to get what they really want from Republicans — amnesty for illegal immigrants. Democratic representative Luis Gutierrez has said as much. Democrats also know that Indian and East Asian immigrants who comprise most foreign STEM workers are generally liberal in their policy preferences and vote overwhelming Democratic — a nice bonus.
In addition to the collusion of both parties, there are other reasons why the idea of a STEM worker shortage is given credence despite all the evidence to the contrary. First, the poor average performance of American high-school students in science and math relative to other First World countries creates the perception that we are not producing enough scientists and engineers. Low average test scores relative to other countries are certainly troubling but, as the EPI study mentioned above makes clear, this does not prevent us from producing a large number of high-quality students. America is a huge country and the STEM workforce is small. It grew by only 1 million in the last 12 years. This is less than 5 percent of the more than 20 million students who got a bachelor’s degree over this time period, to say nothing of the millions more who earned a graduate degree.
Another reason that the “we need more STEM workers” argument is taken as gospel is that it is endorsed by many of America’s most prominent billionaire entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Their vested interest in holding wages down and improving their bargaining power vis-à-vis their workers goes unmentioned by the media that tend to just transcribe their press releases on the subject.
There is also the “xenomania,” to use my colleague Mark Krikorian’s word, of many opinion leaders — the idea that immigrants are better than the average American. As I have pointed out elsewhere, immigrants are not more entrepreneurial than natives, they are not more likely to have a job, they are not less likely to commit crimes, and they are not less likely to use welfare. Nonetheless, for different reasons some on both the right and the left believe such things are the case and reflexively support increasing immigration.
There are a number of problems with allowing ever-more foreign STEM workers into the country. First, the argument for doing so is deceptive and dishonest. Second, these are still mostly middle-class jobs and an enormous number of American students getting STEM degrees are not finding STEM jobs. Over time this fact along with a lack of wage growth can only deter Americans kids from going into these fields. Third, STEM workers are vital to national defense and having a large share of our STEM workforce be foreign-born has important national-security implications. Fourth, allowing American industry to become dependent on foreign sources of skilled labor makes industry increasingly indifferent to any problems in our schools, making it less likely we will fix them.
There may be a specific geographic area or a highly specialized field in which demand really is outstripping supply. However, it makes little sense to allow public policy to be driven by very narrow interests. If there is some special need in a highly technical field, then perhaps a narrowly focused immigration program is called for.
But overall, the data indicate that the supply of STEM workers vastly exceeds the number of STEM jobs and there has been only modest wage growth in these professions. These facts are what should inform and shape immigration policy moving forward.
— Steven Camarota is director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this article identified the PBS piece cited as a news report. It was an opinion piece.