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

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the 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.

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

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