Visas Raise More Concerns

Visas Raise More Concerns

US companies’ rising reliance on outsourcing and visa programs raise concerns for domestic US engineers while highlighting the need to promote STEM among young people.

Two of our sister publications, Electronic Design and Machine Design, recently published the results of their jointly conducted annual salary survey. The findings from both audiences were similar. Engineers in the US still feel that engineering is a good profession, are largely getting paid good salaries, and feel passionate about their work. Yet the slow economy has taken its toll, with many of them saying that they’ve been increasingly working longer hours, are not getting the bonuses of years past, and are generally suffering from a tightening of the corporate belt. Among their top concerns, outsourcing still ranks high.

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Compounding this worry is the use of H-1B visas, which allow workers from other countries to seek employment in the US. Over the past couple of years, multiple findings have indicated that the same companies that outsource also are the ones using the most H-1B visas. According to IEEE-USA, a recent report shows a similar trend for L-1 visas—the temporary visas used by many high-tech firms.

The study, “Implementation of L-1 Visa Regulations,” comes from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General. It found that the top seven L-1 users from 2002 to 2011 and eight of the top 10 were companies that also offshore US jobs as part of their business plans. In addition, the report concluded that L-1B employees work “often at wages that undercut the salaries paid to US workers.”

Obviously, such findings raise the concern that some US companies are not supporting domestic hiring and employment. Playing devil’s advocate, however, one has to wonder if the problem goes beyond hiring workers at lower salaries. With engineering a less-popular major for college graduates, and so many engineering graduates deciding not to work in engineering, are US STEM efforts failing? At least a portion of companies turning to non-US engineers must be unable to find the skills and knowledge they need from domestic US job candidates.

This chicken-or-egg debate could go on seemingly forever and certainly will not be resolved in this column. Yet the rise in outsourced engineering jobs reveals that it is more important than ever to share engineers’ job satisfaction with younger people, continue to engage them with science fairs and other activities, and generally promote engineering as a profession. Companies in the US, in turn, have to do their part in supporting these efforts with education programs and, more importantly, hiring US engineering graduates to the fullest extent that they can.

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