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Andy Pattantyus: Give me your best and brightest

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: February 4, 2010 10:05 p.m.
Updated: February 5, 2010 4:55 a.m.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,”
      —Emma Lazarus in her poem inscribed in bronze at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

The AFL-CIO says the same, by advocating amnesty for 12 million illegal immigrants already in the United States. In a recent study, called “Gaming the System,” the AFL-CIO argues against the legal immigration path enabled by the H-1B visa program, claiming that it “steals jobs” from Americans.

I say, “Give me your best and brightest” instead of those who come here illegally to dishonestly obtain welfare and services, paid for by our honest taxpaying citizens and legal immigrants.

Let me reveal my biases and insight. I am the son of immigrant parents who came to the U.S. lawfully, respecting all the rules. I am a taxpaying and naturalized voting citizen, as are my parents. I am an engineer, as is my father.

We need legal immigrants who enter the U.S. from many countries on H-1B visa status. They have one thing in common: They are almost all scientists, technology specialists, engineers and mathematicians, known to the labor sector as STEMs.

With innovation grounded in technical excellence, the U.S. successfully competes with other countries. To compete, the U.S. needs the best engineers and scientists, who can be homegrown or  imported.

Because not enough are homegrown, the U.S. must import talent. According to Newsmax, the annual need for engineers is 114,000, while our universities produce about 70,000 — creating a shortage of 34,000.

This deficit is filled by legal immigrants, many who come to the U.S. on a student visa and obtain first employment with an H-1B visa. About 6 percent of U.S. undergraduates are engineering majors, compared with 12 percent in Europe and 40 percent in China.

The U.S. is simply not producing enough engineers and scientists.

The AFL-CIO argues that the H-1B visa program is politicized, and I agree with them. The AFL-CIO report also disputes the numbers, in terms of annual graduates versus open positions, but fails to mention the poor quality of many U.S. graduates.

As a former engineering manager tasked with hiring engineers, I can personally attest to the frustration of looking through 500 resumes to find the two or three excellent engineers. Mediocrity, however, is in abundant supply.

In engineering and science, fakers and posers need not apply. As consumers, we often experience malfunctioning systems, equipment and devices. Rightfully we blame the designers, because they did not do their job correctly.

Engineers and scientists also design many mission-critical items which absolutely, positively must work faultlessly. Bridges and skyscrapers must remain standing after an earthquake or hurricane. Wings must remain attached to an airplane during turbulence. The steering mechanism on a car must still function after a pothole is hit.

When your own life is on the line, the matter is more than merely rhetorical or theoretical. As a consumer, I want the best in the business to do the design. I also don’t want any dishonest person working on these things. As with brain or heart surgery, I want only the best doing the job — people with integrity who will do the right thing even under difficult circumstances.

Understandably, companies that design bridges and airplanes have a minimum standard for their best technical people, who must master the underlying theories, do calculations and communicate effectively in English. The need is absolute, not relative.

If these companies cannot find enough qualified domestically educated people to fill the open positions, legal and properly skilled immigrant workers on H-1B visa status should fill the gap.

The honest, hardworking immigrants are successful because they know how to learn, communicate, take a measured risk and make it work. They had to correctly perform many steps in English to immigrate legally to the U.S. They did not shy away from the daunting path.

The AFL-CIO claims that the H-1B program is fraught with worker abuse and fraud, and I have no doubt this is true.

We should clean up the program, but fraud and abuse should not be the justification to shut down any measure that is so vital to the future of the U.S.

Andy Pattantyus lives and works in Santa Clarita and is the president of Strategic Modularity, Inc. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. He can be reached at “Right Here, Right Now” runs Fridays in The Signal and rotates among several local Republican writers.


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