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H-1B workers are better paid, more educated, study finds

Patrick Thibodeau | Feb. 6, 2012
H-1B workers are better educated than U.S. born workers and earn more, according to a new study by an independent research group.

Among the things that this study found was that less than one fourth of the U.S.-born workers in IT have graduate degrees while close to one half of the H-1B workers have advanced degrees.

"This research quite strongly points toward a highly educated group of workers, and there is really no evidence in our data that points to lower earnings," said Lofstrom.

The message from their work is "that there is no evidence of lower pay amongst H-1Bs," said Lofstrom.

With respect to the use of H-1Bs and age discrimination, Lofstrom says that "remains a very important question that remains unanswered." Another unanswered question is whether the H-1B workers are having any impact on wage growth, he said.

One limitation in the data is lack of information about the geographic location of the H-1B workers. The concern is that H-1B workers are more likely to work in high-earning areas, such as Silicon Valley, than U.S. born workers.

Lofstrom said those geographic differences could account for a 2% to 4% impact on earnings, but not enough to overturn the report's conclusions.

The study's conclusions aren't being accepted by its critics on almost every point. Among them is John Miano, founder of the Programmers Guild, who has done his own work on the wage issue. He says the study doesn't take into account the legal requirements.

The report shows (table 4) mean annual earnings in IT for H-1B workers at $76,698, and the U.S. born workers, $79,118. The H-1B workers are paid less in that chart, but Lofstrom argues that you have to adjust for the differences in age and education to make a valid comparison.

Miano, however, said the law requires H-1B workers to be paid the higher of the wage paid to similar worker or the prevailing wage for the occupation and location. "If we take the report at face value, the authors have shown that employers are unlawfully paying law wages to H-1B workers by not paying young workers the overall prevailing wage," he said.

The report authors say their research it is built on data, thanks to their FOIA request, than is found in some other studies. But the report doesn't make an argument for expanding the H-1B cap. It says that the higher earnings levels of H-1B workers at current visa cap levels "do not mean that an expansion of the program will lead to similarly positive outcomes."


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