The immigration debate sure does throw together some strange
bedfellows. Today, George
Borjas and Robert
Reich both express misgivings with the points-based system which will be
used to screen potential immigrants.
Borjas simply notes that he himself gets only 66 points on the Canadian points
system, which is just below the passing grade of 67. (On the other hand, all
he’d need would be a job offer from any old Canadian university, which I’m sure
wouldn’t be too hard to line up, and he’d pass easily.) For what it’s worth,
even without a job or an advanced degree, I managed to rack up 73 points: it
helps a lot to be under the age of 50, and to have some basic
proficiency in French.
Reich, meanwhile, is worried about America’s poor underpaid computer engineers:
Supporters of this fundamental change in immigration policy say we need to
import well-educated talent if we’re to stay competitive.
But exactly whose competitiveness are we talking about? Not the competitiveness
of, say, American-born computer engineers. Adjusted for inflation, their earnings
haven’t gone anywhere in years. That’s in part because American
companies have been sending so much of their high-tech work abroad. Bringing
more foreign-born engineers here – under an expanded H1-B visa program
or a point system, for that matter – will just depress wages even further.
Maybe someone could remind Mr Reich that there was a whopping great bursting
of a technology bubble a few years ago, which probably explains much more about
computer engineers’ earnings than any amount of outsourcing or immigration.
After all, I don’t recall anybody talking about "depressed wages"
in the sector in 1999.
In any case, I’m not convinced that importing computer engineers really cuts
their wages. Dean
Baker would have you believe that it does, but then I think of all the immigrant
computer engineers who started up high-wage companies like Intel, Sun, and Google,
and I think that maybe on aggregate immigrants have done more to raise technology
wages than they have to lower them.