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High-Skill Immigration & the Unemployment Rate

September 19, 2011

In order for an employer to sponsor a worker for employment-based immigration to the U.S., the first step in the process often requires the employer to obtain a certification from the federal Department of Labor. According to the Department’s website, “To obtain certification employers must show that there are insufficient qualified U.S. workers available and willing to perform the work at the prevailing wage paid for the occupation. The intent is to ensure that admitting foreign workers does not adversely affect job opportunities, wages and working conditions for Americans.”

The issue of whether or not there are qualified U.S. workers is particularly contentious in the software industry. Facts are in dispute about the number of unemployed U.S. workers who could perform software engineering jobs. One article on the Science website cites to Dr. Ronil Hira’s claim (based on a IEEE-USA analysis of Labor Department data) that “there are more than 300,000 unemployed engineers and computer scientists.” The article was posted on September 2, 2011; interestingly, as of August 2011 the latest unemployment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that there were 144,000 unemployed workers in the Computer and Mathematical Occupations category. Ancedotal reports indicate a very high demand for software engineers at present.

Although the national unemployment rate has been hovering between 9% and 10% for the past two years (see my reference in this post), most software engineering jobs require a bachelor’s degree as a minimum educational requirement (see “Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement” in this section), and, according to the August 2011 figures, the national unemployment rate for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher is 4.3%.  The 4.3% rate is actually lower than the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the “natural” unemployment rate (the rate that would be experienced even in a healthy economy), which is 5.2%.

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