U.S. Engineers Shortchanged

By : Sharon Scott

Salem Statesman Journal

U.S. engineers shortchanged - SHARON SCOTT November 19, 2003

Should we even encourage our children to seek engineering careers? Should we throw money into their college educations? Because likely there is no job at the end of this investment.

Our corporations have been allowed to bring low-paid engineers into the United States at an alarming rate since The Immigration Act of 1990 was revised to admit foreign nationals for permanent employment-based programs.

This H-1B Visa program has resulted in approximately 200,000 immigrants (mostly from India) in 1998-1999; 600,000 in years 1999-2001; 100,000 in 2002; and approximately 240,000 in 2003. These workers include electrical, electronics, computer and software engineers.

Compare this to the rising unemployment of U.S. engineers. The unemployment rate for electrical and electronic engineers reached 7 percent, 6.5 percent for computer engineers and 7.5 percent for computer hardware engineers. The U.S. electronic industry shed 560,000 high-paying manufacturing and service jobs between Jan. 1, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2002.

There are supposed to be certain criteria for corporations to be allowed to import these workers. These include having tried to hire American engineers. There is no strict monitoring of the requirements, so corporate abuse is rampant.

And the fees charged to corporations for this program are not going to the training programs for which they were intended. Instead of training for professional-level jobs, the funding is for entry-level training. To add insult to injury, some of the U.S. engineers are forced, as part of their severance pay, to train the immigrant engineers for their own jobs!

The studies show that these new workers are paid substantially less than the American engineers, although equal pay was one of the rules. The imported engineers are reluctant to complain since they are indentured servants for six years or longer. Non-U.S. engineering services firms are importing technical workers through U.S. subsidiaries who are then outsourced to other U.S. companies, allowing these U.S. companies to lay off their American engineers.

By crying competition, corporations are forever reducing their costs by firing their U.S. engineers and indenturing the newly imported replacements. This downward spiral will continue, since there will always be some company reducing the wages even of these new folks. Paul Kostek, a former president of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, said, How can you compete with an $800-a-month engineer?

My question to Gov. Kulongoski and Sens. Wyden and Smith, when you gather together in Portland for your economic summit, is: How are you going to help our student-engineers compete with this corporate crime? And how can we get federal financial aid for our state colleges when the vast majority of money goes to the elite colleges (Harvard, Princeton, Yale)?