Tech Companies Don’t Want Older (Qualified) Americans

John Vinson's picture

By John Vinson

John is a Senior Writing Fellow with CAPS. A long-time advocate of conservation and responsible use of natural resources, John is president of the American Immigration Control Foundation.

The writer's views are his own. 

August 20, 2014

Older unemployed high tech workerIf there is truly a shortage of Americans who can do computer programming and other tech jobs, as tech companies constantly claim, then how is it that there are millions of Americans with technical training who are either working in other fields or are unemployed?

Increasing evidence indicates that the companies pretend these American workers don’t exist because they don’t want to hire them. They prefer instead to hire foreign workers admitted under the H-1B program because they can make more money by doing so.

A key issue is age. The companies want a steady stream of young workers, which H-1B visas can supply. The companies can pay these employees less than older and more experienced Americans. Also, they can persuade them to work longer hours because typically they don’t have family responsibilities. And the employers have additional leverage to make them work harder by threatening to revoke their visas.

Companies are required by law to seek American applicants before they hire H-1Bs. Also the law forbids age discrimination, but the companies have developed numerous tactics to dodge the law. One example, noted in a recent article in Fortune, is advertising to exclude all but young job applicants. “Many tech companies,” said the article, “post openings exclusively for new or recent college graduates, a pool that is overwhelmingly in its early twenties.”

The Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) is the federal agency charged with enforcing discrimination laws in the job market. “In our view, it’s illegal [what these companies are doing],” says Raymond Peeler, the EOC’s senior attorney advisor. Nevertheless, the practice continues.

Even if ads don’t discourage all older people from applying, there is no guarantee that anyone will consider their applications. Norman Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California (Davis), is an authority on the tactics used to hire H-1Bs. Hiring managers, he observes, will claim with “full though naïve sincerity” that no Americans are available, but that’s because “[Human Resources] won’t send them the over-35 American applicant files.” Matloff adds that computer programming was once a job an American could count on for a career, “but the availability of H-1Bs, who are overwhelmingly young, changed all that.”

The companies’ intense focus on young workers clearly undermines their claim that they need H-1Bs to obtain the “best and brightest” workers in the global marketplace. How can these firms really know if these younger hires are so talented when they have yet to establish a track record of their abilities? Indeed, a study by Professor Matloff, published by the Economic Policy Institute, found that H-1B workers commonly have fewer measurable credentials than Americans in tech occupations.

Age discrimination is a significant problem as many older Americans face unemployment. H-1Bs make this problem worse, and not just for tech workers. Other professions, such as pharmacy and accounting, are feeling the impact of these visas as well. In the past, companies often retrained experienced employees if that was necessary to meet new demands. Now with H-1Bs, it’s easier for a company just to let those workers go, and easier and cheaper for other companies not to rehire them.

By breaking the letter and spirit of the law, companies demanding H-1Bs are betraying their countrymen.

Tell your elected officials to support American workers!

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