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Monday, March 18, 2013

Immigration Plan Brings Bad News

Editor's comment: The following guest column appeared on South Carolina's Greenville Online. Not everyone is S.C. is drinking the Sen. Lindsey Graham Kool-aid.  As a former graduate professor, I also noted universities recruiting foreign faculty who possessed or would soon possess a terminal degree verses an American with even better credentials.  The university / colleges made it clear by their actions that they preferred to pay lower salaries,  to avoid issues like tenure and to meet certain ethnic criteria  while avoiding resident citizens of color.  Recruited foreign professors either cooperated or were shipped back to their home countries  — sort of modern day academic slavery.

by Mark Thies: Radio and TV ads have recently been playing across South Carolina, targeting Sen. Lindsey Graham and the “Gang of Eight” immigration proposal. In those ads, the question is asked “Who does Lindsey Graham represent?” The responders reply, “Not me!”

It appears Lindsey Graham has forgotten that his job is to represent all Americans not just Big Business and ethnic-advocacy groups like La Raza. The Gang of Eight’s five-page proposal for immigration reform is full of unpleasant news for tens of millions of Americans, including the jobless, students and taxpayers.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Graham proposal is its impact on America’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) workers and students. It’s hard to believe, but in this fragile economy of 8.4 percent state unemployment, where 15.8 percent of South Carolinians and 20 million Americans are looking for a full-time job, Graham claims that we now have a labor shortage.

With 53 percent of recent college graduates under/unemployed, Graham and the gang brazenly propose that every foreign student who earns a U.S. master’s or doctorate degree in a STEM field be automatically given a permanent work permit. But data, both nationally and at Clemson, refute Graham’s labor-shortage claims.

For example, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which tracks STEM salaries of new graduates, reports that overall engineering starting salaries have been flat since 2010, with a tiny 0.3 percent increase. Similar trends exist for more experienced workers. In fact, according to Professor Norman Matloff (EPI Briefing Paper No. 356, Feb. 28), no study other than those sponsored by industry has ever confirmed a shortage! Industry’s continual claims that there are too few Americans in STEM fields — and that U.S. citizens are less talented than their foreign counterparts — have been refuted by several recent studies.

Graham also says that we have a “brain drain,” because engineers educated here are returning to their home countries. Yet according to Ross Eisenbrey in The New York Times, almost 90 percent of Chinese and Indian students who earn STEM PhDs stay here. Ross comments (and based on my 28 years at Clemson University I concur) that if a student is talented enough to be wanted by industry, they are essentially guaranteed to get a work visa.

As far as the brain drain is concerned, Matloff’s study reached a somewhat startling conclusion: There indeed is a brain drain — but it’s an internal brain drain, as the best and brightest U.S. students move out of the STEM field after graduation into areas where salaries are more lucrative because of less worker competition. Already, only a third of those with STEM degrees are working in STEM fields. Graham’s proposal to grant permanent work permits to all foreign STEM M.S./PhD graduates, regardless of need or ability, would make the problem even worse.

Ironically, the number of Science and Engineering students at Clemson has reached all-time highs; it’s up almost 60 percent in the past 5 years. For example, I have the most students in my Thermodynamics class in 28 years of teaching. If Graham would just leave the current system alone so that just the truly best and brightest students can stay, market forces will respond, and the number of U.S. citizens graduating with advanced STEM degrees will significantly increase.

There is plenty of bad news in Graham’s proposal for non-STEM workers too. The Democrats in the gang have agreed to give Graham a free pass on foreign workers; in exchange they get a free pass on amnesty from the Republicans. And no, the illegals won’t be at the back of that proverbial line — with their permanent work permits and their jobs, they’ll be at the front.

And finally we come to the poor taxpayer who will have to pay for everything. Remember, the minute that the 11 million illegal aliens become legal, they become eligible for Obamacare, Social Security, Medicare and Earned Income and Child Tax Credits. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation says that Graham’s proposal could cost at least as much as the $2.6 trillion estimated cost of the defeated 2007 McCain/Kennedy amnesty bill. That should take our national debt over the 20 trillion mark that has been heralded as the tipping point.

If Congress can’t do any better than this with immigration reform, then perhaps it needs to implement an unlimited work visa program — not for STEM workers, but for lawyers. Replacing Congress with foreign workers could be our smartest move yet.
Mark Thies is a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

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