Thursday, February 21, 2013

The H-1B

Two stories caught my attention on NPR the other morning. The first had to do with 3D printing, which is slated to be the next generation in manufacturing and industrial design. The new technology was mentioned by Obama in his SOTU address last week. 3d printers, which allow an individual to scan and "print" 3-dimensional objects, is believed by some to be the herald of a new industrial revolution. The question is, how does the US capitalize on this new technology? As it gets cheaper, and questions are raised about copyrights and piracy, how can we turn this new technology into our second wind?

The second story had to do with H-1B visas for migrant workers. The visas are available to highly skilled and trained immigrants, usually in engineering and computer industries, to help attract skilled workers to the US. The problem, as the story points out, is that many companies who hire skilled workers are more interested in picking up foreign workers on the H-1B visa than American workers. Why? Because those who are here on a visa are more apt to stay despite bad pay, long hours, and minimal benefits. American workers are more picky about their jobs, especially those with high-level skills.

Obama's SOTU made it clear that he is interested in seeing a revitalization of our productive industrial sector. Engineering, science, and technology have become major priorities in our education system. Yet we continue to fall behind the rest of the world in technological research, development, and manufacturing. Our car industry aside, we've essentially lost all major manufacturing industries to cheaper foreign labor.

The reason these two stories peaked my interest is because they seem to answer their own questions: how do we move forward with a new technology, and how do we get companies to hire American workers? The solution, it seems, would be to focus our energy on new technology, and turn the US into a leader in things like 3D printing. Right now, it's still a largely unexplored field. It's getting cheaper, no doubt, but it could be much more accessible in years to come if we devote time and money to it now.

3D printing is just starting to make waves in manufacturing, being the newest result of combining production with new-age technology. The US has a unique opportunity to take this new technology and use to as a catalyst for major economic change.

How does the H-1B fit into this? In my opinion, the work visa is a great idea in the sense that it allows us to bring bright, capable workers here to help our economy and to help in the production of American products. On the downside, we have the issue of those workers taking jobs from Americans. The solution, in my opinion, is to limit the number of H-1B workers a company can hire based on how many Americans they hire to equal positions. For example, for every H-1B engineer a company hires, they have to hire two American engineers to positions of equal pay value and work. That would keep Americans from being shut out of these jobs, while still keeping a place for foreign workers to find jobs as well.

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