Opinion » Ted Rall

Treasonous Reform

Why are we importing foreign workers?

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Unemployment is sky-high. Sustained long-term unemployment is at record levels. So why the hell are we importing foreign workers?

The immigration reform bill will throw open the door to millions of new foreigners to enter the United States to work. And we're not talking about crappy fruit-picking gigs Americans supposedly don't want.

Lawmakers want foreign nationals to fill America's high-paying tech jobs. While Americans are out of work.

For at least 20 years, the U.S. economy has been replacing good manufacturing jobs with bad service jobs. Salaries have fallen. Which has depressed demand. As things stand, there's one bright spot: the potential for the IT sector to lift us out of the rut. To paraphrase George Orwell's 1984: If there is hope for America's unemployed, it lies with tech.

Make that: "lied." Because America's tech companies are hell-bent on hiring just about anyone who is not an American citizen.

Economists say jobs aren't a zero-sum game. But unemployment would certainly be lower if employers were forced to hire Americans who were qualified, or train them. But they're not. Companies "want people to hit the ground running," Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli, author of Why Good People Can't Get Jobs, told USA Today, "They don't want to train anybody."

What bosses want is flexible indentured labor. Foreign workers fit the bill perfectly. If foreigners get fired, they lose their visas and have to go back home. How likely are they to ask for a raise, much less gripe about long hours or unpaid overtime?

And so, even as born-in-the-USA Americans languish without jobs, sinking into poverty, Big Tech is passing them over.

"As drafted," reports FoxNews, "the bill would raise the current cap on so-called H-1B visas for highly skilled workers. ... The legislation also included new protections designed to ensure American workers get the first shot at jobs, and high-tech firms objected to some of those constraints."

Re-read that last phrase. "High-tech firms objected" to "new protections designed to ensure American workers get the first shot at jobs." Thanks to the Gap-shirt-wearing billionaires of Silicon Valley, those common-sense protections have been cut out of the bill. Nevertheless, the number of indentured foreign workers likely to be authorized by the new law has shot up to at least 300,000 annually.

Which firms are spending big bucks to screw American tech workers? Unbeknown to most Internet users, Facebook is the tip of the spear of an anti-American worker, multi-million-dollar lobbying juggernaut. Facebook and its insanely rich corporate allies claim they need foreigners because they can't find enough qualified U.S. citizens.

The tech giants are lying. There are plenty of unemployed IT workers right here. Officially, tech sector unemployment is a relatively low 3.7 percent. Millions of tech-savvy Americans are out there looking for jobs. Yet big tech doesn't want them.

"If anything, we have too many high-tech workers: More than 9 million people have degrees in a science, technology, engineering or math field, but only about 3 million have a job in one," EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey wrote in The New York Times. "That's largely because pay levels don't reward their skills. Salaries in computer- and math-related fields for workers with a college degree rose only 4.5 percent between 2000 and 2011. If these skills are so valuable and in such short supply, salaries should at least keep pace with the tech companies' profits, which have exploded."

On average, the typical unemployed U.S. tech worker is better trained than the foreign workers who are taking their jobs.

Large-scale farms claim they can't find Americans willing to work, but once again, there are lots of Americans willing to do the job--but the big farms pass them by.

"When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico, he is committed to the work," Jon Schwalls, director of operations at Southern Valley farm in Georgia, said. "It's like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he's ready. A domestic [American citizen] wants to know: What's the pay? What are the conditions?"

Southern Valley is one of numerous farm operations being sued by "Americans, mostly black, who live near the farms and say they want the field work but cannot get it because it is going to Mexicans. They contend that they are illegally discouraged from applying for work and treated shabbily by farmers who prefer the foreigners for their malleability," reports The Times.

We know Americans are willing to do field work because, until the 1970s, two-thirds of farm workers were U.S. citizens and one-third were foreigners. Now it's the other way around. Farms were recently forced to concede that their legally required efforts to recruit Americans for field work "had not been made or had been intentionally not serious."

No wonder the immigration bill has bipartisan support. Both the Democrats and the Republicans work for their big corporate donors, not for us. Business wants salaries low, labor weak. There's only one reason to import foreign labor: to depress wages.

If the supporters of import-more-foreigners immigration reform weren't trying to screw over American workers, they'd grant permanent resident status to foreign workers so that they could stay legally, join unions, and negotiate on an equal footing with employers. But that would defeat the purpose.

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