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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Import Workers Or Export Jobs?

by Gail Pean

The U.S. Dept. of Labor forecasts that by 2012 we will need 23.5% more electricians, 18.7% more plumbers, pipe fitters, and steamfitters, and 16.9% more welders. "The shortage comes at a bad time for U.S. Manufacturers, who are finally seeing an upswing in business. If they can't find the skilled workers they need, many companies could ultimately find it tougher to remain players in globally competitive markets." wrote Timothy Aeppel of the Wall Street Journal. President of the National Association of Manufacturers Jerry Jasinowski said, "It's clear that a hot emerging issue for manufacturing is skilled-worker shortages." For many years the US has drawn upon skilled machinists trained by overseas apprenticeship programs. In the past our wages and promise of the American dream attracted them. However now these skilled workers are making as much or more in their home countries and with the Euro being stronger than the dollar we are not attracting the skilled workers as easily.

Between 1999-2003 as an Immigration Specialist, I contacted thousands of employers of shortage occupation workers and filed the Forms 750-A & B with documentation from the employers. Employers spent yearly thousands of dollars unsuccessfully advertising, attending job fairs, placing ads in journals, having open house recruitment days to fill positions. Employers wait for years knowing they must pay the "prevailing wage" which is determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and updated quite frequently to reflect current wages. We definitely have a skills shortage in America.

The Department of Labor has been working with employers to assist them in bringing skilled workers into the USA under the Permanent Residency Visa to fill these needs. It takes however a minimum of two years to process these applications from the Philadelphia Regional Office. New York and California have five year or more waiting periods. The Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Law Foundation writes, "Congress and the White House have pledged for a decade to reduce the backlog of immigration cases, but without providing the resources necessary to do the job." Bill Reinsch, President of the National Foreign Trade Council stated that we lost over $30 billion throughout our economy since 2002 as a result of inefficient management of the visa processing system.

Currently there is a serious shortage of 60,000 skilled auto mechanics in this country. If you have waited a month for an appointment you already have experienced the effect. We are losing about 30,000 trained mechanics each year to retirement and the schools are not producing quality replacements to take care of all the new cars on the road. Five years ago only 20% of the cars were computerized. Today 80% of cars on the road are computerized. One of the largest clients of my former employer, Empower, Inc. is Koons Ford in Tyson Corner, VA. Empower, Inc. is owned by John Yoon from Korea. Mr. Yoon has been bringing Korean workers to the USA for over 30 years by finding jobs for them in shortage occupations and helping them to obtain Permanent Residency Visas. Koons Ford waited over two years and has hired over twenty skilled auto mechanics from Korea.

The Service Manager of Chevy Chase Autos in Bethesda, MD told me that our technical high schools and institutes like Lincoln Tech are not training mechanics to come out of school and work on cars with computerized diagnostic needs. Many lack the mathematical skills required. It takes another two years in training to become a skilled auto mechanic after graduation from one of the tech schools. Our high schools create the illusion that everyone is capable of succeeding yet provide few marketable skills for the high school graduate not continuing to college.

We should adopt the European model of trade schools after 9th grade and partner with the businesses with shortages to fill our labor shortage needs in the construction, mechanical and auto repair industry. Our society also has a shortage of carpenters, welders, skilled machinists, electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, dental prosthesis technicians, medical lab technicians, occupational therapists, physician assistants, physical therapists, nurses, doctors, bakers, tailors, hair stylists, dairy farm managers, floral arrangers and many more occupations. Many occupations are suffering shortages because parents are discouraging their children to work with their hands.

Most American employers I spoke with complained not only of shortages, but that American workers have lost their good work ethic. Sick time and worker accident claims are up across the nation. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 1 out of 5 employees' ages 18-25 and 1 out of 8 employees' ages 26-34 uses drugs on the job. The Department of Labor states that there are nine million employed substances abusers costing the economy over One Billion dollars in lost revenue per year from absenteeism, medical expenses, accident costs and lost productivity.

Immigrants not only contribute to our economic prosperity through the movement of skilled labor. They send home millions and sometimes billions in remittances to their home countries that sustain families from starvation and destitution. In 2003 according to USAID Haitians sent home 800 Million, Indians sent home 4.5 Billion and Mexicans sent home 13.3 Billion. They provided enormous investment capital in their home countries creating jobs and new industry as in India. These countries are not creating the jobs necessary to absorb their all their educated and skilled workers. For some countries like Haiti their main export is becoming their labor. In this nation of 8 million people the political economy of corruption has eroded their societies of more than soil. Opportunities for high school and college graduates do not keep pace with the rate of production of these countries. Unemployment is at an 80% rate in Haiti. The leaders who have stolen millions do not reinvest in their countries so job opportunities are not being created. Young people are destined to join the ranks of the unemployed or are courted by and join the illegal drug distribution networks of the drug cartels if they remain at home. Hence the migration of educated and skilled workers to the US, Canada, and Australia by emigrants from Haiti, Philippines, Mexico, India etc. Educated people learn which categories offer them a permanent residency visa and they train in these fields in order to migrate. The Philippines has become a producer of nurses and doctors for export to the US, England, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Australia.

The argument that we are creating a brain drain does not hold sway in many countries like the Philippines where doctors and nurses are educated for export. They seek employment abroad where they can earn substantial salaries allowing them to support parents and siblings and to pay for their education. Many are giving back to their homelands. Cora Alisuag, President of Aliron International in Washington, D.C. was a lawyer in the Philippines who trained to become a nurse in order to immigrate to the USA. She is a successful business owner today recruiting doctors and nurses within the US to fill government contracts where outsourcing jobs for nurses, doctors and dentists for army bases has become more cost effective they hiring them as members of the military. She recently built a hazardous waste treatment plant in the Philippines mortgaging her home in D.C. to fund the plant. While visiting the Philippines she was inspired to treat the waste properly after observing people living off the hazardous waste dump sites.

Immigrants contribute to the growth of our economy by creating new jobs and purchasing homes. For decades according to the National Center for Policy Analysis, the proportion of immigrants who started their own businesses exceeded entrepreneurship rates of US born citizens. In 1960 13.8 % of immigrants ran their own businesses, compared to 9.6 percent of native born Americans. Nearly one third of Korean immigrants founded their own businesses, the highest rate of any immigrant group while immigrants from Columbia are the most prosperous making an average of $40,267. The rate of homeownership amongst immigrants is very high. "The Immigrant Factor" is keeping the rate of new construction healthy according to The Homeownership Alliance and Harvard Center for Housing Studies which predict demand over the next ten years will result in one of the strongest production periods in decades for builders. Most importantly they keep the American dream alive.

Bill Reinsch, President of the National Foreign Trade Council stated that we lost over $30 billion throughout our economy since 2002 as a result of inefficient management of the visa processing system. In Senate Judiciary hearings (Sept. 16, 2003) Elizabeth Dikson, Director of Immigrant Services for the Ingersoll-Rand Company spoke on behalf of the US. Chamber of Commerce,"In the near term, we simply must have access to foreign nationals. Many of them have been educated in the United States. By sending them home, we are at best sending them to our own foreign plant sites and at worst our competitors." The U.S. Chamber of Commerce "represents a wide spectrum of industry sectors from manufacturing, to retailing, services, construction, wholesaling, and finance in a variety of locations around the country …also represents over 850 trade associations and professional societies." She said that, "the cap, when reached before the beginning of the new fiscal year causes great economic hardship to U.S. employers…immigration policies and procedures must be rationally based and include consideration for economic security and competitiveness. We must be able to tap the talent we need both domestically and abroad." As to whether they would be displacing American workers she specifically noted that "A company would not invest this kind of money in these individuals unless there was a sound business need for their skills and services in the United States." With the US having the largest trade deficit in history of a record $55.82 billion in June of 2004 we should heed her words and encourage skilled immigrants worldwide to come to the US so we may all enjoy the fruits of their innovations, and their educated and skilled labor.

Recently Intel Corporation Human Resources Attorney, Patrick Duffy, discussed the "key to growth" as a leading high tech company. "We are an International leader because we have been able to locate, hire and retain the worlds' best engineering talent who in turn develop innovative products that generates demand and spurs growth." The best way to cause job losses and outsourcing is to prevent cutting edge companies from hiring overseas workers whether on a Permanent residency Visa, H-1 B or L-1," he stated. "Whenever there is a U.S. position to be filled, Intel's philosophy is to seek U.S. workers first." He discussed the serious implication of companies being unable to hire necessary foreign workers in a timely manner. It could cause large high tech firms to move a majority of their operations overseas which will result in an overall loss in US jobs which is not beneficial to US workers or the US economy. This is not inevitable outcome in a global economy. The visa bottlenecks are exacerbating severe skilled labor shortages for US Employers. The outsourcing of skilled services and knowledge related jobs from the US to India is rapidly increasing as a result. We need to encourage the establishment of rules to ensure transparency in such imports and exports of labor. The World Bank, The International Labor Organization and the World Trade Organization should host forums on the increased trade of skilled workers and outsourcing to examine and simplify issues such as mutual recognition and certification of professional and academic degrees, transparent visa procedures, tax revenue sharing agreements that avoids double taxation of workers, mutually acceptable basis for contractual labor services ,remittance facilitation, and special economic visas with clearly defined responsibilities and benefits to guest workers. Maybe need to give most favored nation trading status to countries exporting workers as well as silk blouses and sneakers.

Sources: New Fiscal Year; H-1B Program Changes Take Effect Oct.2, 2003
The Wall Street Journal.Vol.No.32 Monday August 16, 2004
Slowing Growth Stirs Doubts over Global Recovery, Record Trade Gap Hits US As Export Markets Falter; China Takes on Crucial Role, page 1 Column 4
The Immigrant Factor-Big Builder Magazine
The Wall Street Journal, August 17,2004 "Turn of the Screw, In Tepid Job Scene, Certain Workers Are in Hot Demand" by Timothy Aeppel,0818-ailf.shtm, Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Law Foundation ,Dividing Families July 19,2004 India>US in India's largest market for labour exports:CII study
Economie Politique de la Corruption, "The Political Economy of Corruption, From Santo Domingo to Haiti , Author, Leslie Pean, published by Editions Memoire,

About The Author

Gail Pean has a Master's Degree in Management and Labor Studies from Rutgers University (1978) and has worked as an Immigration Specialist in Falls Church, VA and as an Immigration Certification Officer in Newark, NJ.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.