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Letter to the Editor, RE: U.S. Firms Must Be Weaned from Reliance on Foreign Help, USA Today

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 00062654 (posted Jun. 26, 2000)"

June 26, 2000

Letters to the Editor
USA Today
1000 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22229

To The Editor:

Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and DeWayne Wickham ("U.S. Firms must be weaned from reliance on foreign help," Sept. 7) may think the United States does not have a worker shortage. But the economic data shows that they are wrong. We have a severe shortage of both skilled and essential workers, and immigrants are part of the solution.

Mr. Wickham is correct when he writes that the U.S. economy is being fueled by information and technology industries, and workers in those sectors "are in short supply." Virtually every study of the high-tech sector (including one issued by the U.S. Commerce Department) shows that there are more positions than there are workers available to fill them. He and Secretary Herman also are accurate when they express concern about boosting American educational standards to ensure that our workers can qualify for high-tech jobs. (Mr. Wickham does us all a disservice when he downplays the fact that $500 of the cost of H-1B applications goes to fund education and training of U.S. workers.)

He is incorrect, however, when he says that a program allowing employers to hire temporary foreign workers is part of the problem. The H-1B program, as it is known, allowed 115,000 professionals to be hired by American companies this past Fiscal Year. Let’s put that number in perspective: that’s 115,000 out of 6,538,300 people working in computer and data processing services, nursing and other healthcare professional fields, educational services, engineering and architectural services, and other high-tech services.

Mr. Wickham also overlooks the fact that employers who use H-1B professionals are required by law to pay them the prevailing wage, and that companies must demonstrate to Secretary Herman’s Labor Department that they have tried and failed to hire American workers before they can even apply to the H-1B program.

No employer would go through the extra burdens, costs and delays of hiring a foreign professional unless they could not find the skills they need among U.S. workers. Companies that use H-1B professionals report that the projects developed by such workers, and their spin offs, produce more jobs for American workers. But if American companies are prevented from hiring essential people to fill critical positions, an increasing number of jobs dependent upon these slots will go unfilled each year, resulting in American jobs being lost and American projects losing out to foreign competition. As the U.S. economy becomes increasingly global, H-1B professionals become even more essential to America’s continued economic growth.

In his article, Mr. Wickham ignores another, equally important, shortage: that of essential or unskilled workers. The Federal Reserve Board, in its monthly report on the economy issued Sept. 22, said: "The demand for labor continues to outstrip the readily available supply of labor in most areas." Businesses in such cities as Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, New York, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and St. Louis cannot find enough staff to fill vacancies.

These labor shortages are beginning to hurt the American economy. The Fed report notes that, due to the difficulty in hiring workers, wages are increasing at manufacturing companies, retail establishments, and at temporary firms. In other words: the shortage of workers is rekindling inflation. If that continues, the Fed may hike interest rates, thereby slowing or halting our booming economy.

That’s why Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, speaking before Congress this past July, said the U.S. "should be carefully focused on the contribution which skilled people from abroad, unskilled people from abroad, what they can contribute to this country as they have for generation after generation." Addressing the issue of how to halt the worker shortage from rekindling inflation, Chairman Greenspan said, "If we can open up our immigrations rolls significantly, that will clearly make that less and less of a potential problem."

I couldn’t put it any better myself. Allowing more skilled and essential foreign workers into the U.S. will help our economy continue to grow without the threat.

Sincerely yours,

Steven A. Clark

Mr. Clark is a partner in the Cambridge, MA, law firm of Flynn & Clark.