Filling High-Tech Positions

According to David Peters, the CEO of Universal Robotics, more than a quarter of U.S. technology  firms report difficulty both finding and hiring high-tech workers in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (“Comprehensive immigration reform means more U.S. Jobs,” The Tennessean, March, 15, 2013). In the past few weeks, The Tennessean has published several articles by Walker Moskop that have described the more than 800 unfilled tech positions in the Nashville area.  About 60% of these positions have been open for six months or more. There have been about 1,000 unfilled technology positions each year for the past few years (These statistics, which were reported by the CEO of the Nashville Technology Council, Liza Massey, could be even higher according to John Kepley, the CEO of the recruiting firm, Teknetex). The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce are partners in an initiative to attract technology workers to the Nashville area. The website that was created – – is a free site that allows employers to list positions and job seekers to post their resumes.

Some sources attribute these openings to a lack of American-born STEM professionals. Others have indicated that professionals who are trained in high-tech fields are finding jobs in different occupations. 

When there are shortages of American workers to fill positions in technical fields, foreign-born professionals who do not already live in the United States are sometimes hired.  The process of acquiring visas for future employees has been described as “cumbersome,” “complicated,” “time-consuming,” “costly,” “perplexing,” “daunting,” and “frustrating” by two individuals who have been involved in the hiring process.  The steps that employees must take to renew their visas have been reported to be “just as troublesome” as the acquisition process was for their employers (“Hiring foreign-born tech workers can be daunting,” LawCrossing, Copley News Services, by Michael Kinsman).                                   
The university campuses in this country are another potential source of foreign-born high-tech workers. Data from the National Science Foundation revealed that in 2010, 176,000 foreign graduate students studied science and engineering in American Universities (“America needs immigration for economic growth,” Market Watch, The Wall Street Journal, by Diana Furchtgott-Roth, February 8, 2013). According to Darrell M. West, the author of “Brookings Policy Brief #178,” due to the current visa rules in this country, most of these students are sent home after they graduate (“Creating a ‘Brain Gain’ for U.S. Employers: The Role of Immigration,” January, 2011). 

The percentage of foreign-born technical workers in the U.S. doubled between 1990 and 2010 – from 10.8% to 20.7% (“Tech Workers’ Share of American Dream Declines,” Fins Technology, Morning Coffee, by Joseph Walker, February 17, 2012). According to the Department of Commerce, about 20% of the workers in STEM fields are foreign-born and 63% of those workers are from Asia (“Asian arrival: How STEM demand led to a massive shift in immigration,” by Michael Wildes, June 21, 2012).

A bipartisan group of mayors and business leaders from all 50 states has formed the Partnership for a New American Economy to raise awareness about the economic benefits of what they have referred to as “sensible immigration reform.”  John Feinblatt, who is the chief policy advisor for New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg – one of the Co-Chairs of the Partnership – stated that “we’ve got to make the case that in today’s economy the currency is talent, and we need the talent in this country if we want to continue to be the great economic leader that we are” (“Tech leaders plan virtual push on immigration,” by Erica Werner, Associated Press, February 25, 2013).

In January, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Immigration Innovation Act, which would increase the number of STEM visas and use the money acquired from visa application fees to fund STEM education programs in the United States (“Senators introduce immigration reform to increase STEM visas,” The Hill, by Ramsey Cox, January 29, 2013).
One recommendation that was made in “Brookings Policy Brief #178” is that we need to “work harder to integrate immigrants into American life and [to] teach them English.” That is one way to increase the chances that immigrants who are valuable to our society and our economy will want to remain in this country.  Learning English can be quite challenging for those who know little or no English or who only know how to read English. Those who have spoken English for many years but are not familiar with American English pronunciations can be difficult for their listeners to understand. For foreign-born tech workers who must frequently communicate with a number of different people, learning American English pronunciations is highly recommended. Those who need assistance in that area can benefit greatly from pursuing an accent modification program with a speech-language pathologist.