Are Foreigners Smarter Than US Workers?

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/cat.mhtml?lang=en&search_source=search_form&search_tracking_id=B2D942D6-820D-11E2-B9FE-2D921472E43D&version=llv1&anyorall=all&safesearch=1&searchterm=uncle+sam+dunce&search_group=&orient=&search_cat=&searchtermx=&photographer_name=&people_gender=&people_age=&people_ethnicity=&people_number=&commercial_ok=&color=&show_color_wheel=1#id=91886447&src=B67C02C0-820D-11E2-B31B-12CDACE6966E-1-0">Jeff Cameron Collingwood</a>/ShutterStock

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


This week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged Congress to issue more H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers. The US needs “an immigration system that brings the best, brightest, and hardest workers to our shores,” he said. His words echoed an editorial published last year by Bloomberg News headlined “Help The US Economy With Visas for the Best and Brightest.”

Unfortunately, the phrase “best and brightest” has a slippery history. It’s best known as the ironic title of journalist David Halberstam’s book about the architects of the Vietnam war. And it applies in a similarly upside-down way to foreign tech workers, who, according to a study released yesterday by the Economic Policy Institute, demonstrate no more talent in important areas than similarly educated Americans, and in some cases may be less qualified.

The EPI study, written by University of California-Davis computer science professor Norman Matloff, compared American-born college graduates holding degrees in computer science and electrical engineering to their foreign-born counterparts. Controlling for age and education level, he found that the foreign-born workers filed fewer patent applications, attended less-selective American universities, and were less likely to work in research-and-development positions than the native-born workers. They were also no better than Americans in terms of dissertation awards or salaries.

There are, of course, reasons for this that have nothing to do with intelligence. More than 80 percent of H-1B visa holders are approved to be hired at wages below those paid to American workers for comparable positions, according to EPI. And because H-1B workers and green card applicants are locked into jobs with whatever employer sponsors their visa, they have less less leverage to push for raises and promotions. As Matloff puts it, “the worker becomes a de facto indentured servant.”

Proponents of expanding the H-1B visa program like to argue that it’ll help attract the next George Soros or Sergey Brin. And it might. But Matloff’s analysis is the latest in a string of research to suggest that American CEOs really like something else about the program: the way it saves them money on labor.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate