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Another Voice: Immigration reform can close gender wage gap

By Francine Weinberg

Technology firms portray themselves as bastions of equality and progressive values – but in reality, they frequently discriminate against female workers.

Sixty percent of the time tech firms offer men higher salaries than women for the exact same role, according to a new report from recruitment firm Hired.

Life doesn’t get much better for female workers once they accept job offers. Sixty-five percent of female tech workers say they’ve faced discrimination due to their gender, compared to just 11% of men.

Federal immigration policy fuels this discrimination. The H-1B visa program, in particular, enables tech firms to hire tens of thousands of foreign, mostly male programmers each year – and box out American women in the process. Reforming such visa programs would make the tech industry fairer and more equitable.

Women account for only 26% of America’s computing workforce and fill a mere 11% of the leadership positions at tech companies.

Even among female computer science majors, only 38% are employed in computer jobs – compared to 53% of male computer science majors.

The H-1B visa program is largely to blame. Congress created the program in 1990 so firms could bring in highly specialized foreigners to fill jobs that Americans couldn’t.

For the most part, tech companies haven’t used H-1B visas to close skills gaps – they’ve used them to slash payroll costs. Eighty percent of H-1B workers earn less than Americans in similar roles. And a majority of H-1B visa holders take entry-level jobs, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The sheer scale of the program has distorted the tech labor market. Goldman Sachs estimates that more than 900,000 H-1B visa holders – three-quarters of whom are men – currently work in the United States. They account for about one in every eight tech workers.

Competition from these foreign laborers has driven Americans out of the tech industry and depressed their earnings. Had the H-1B program never existed in the 1990s, 11%  more Americans would have been employed as computer scientists by 2001, according to a recent University of Michigan study. And those Americans’ salaries would have been about 5%  higher as well.

As long as tech companies can hire cheap guest workers, they’ll feel little pressure to hire American women and treat them fairly. Reforming the H-1B visa program would force employers to give women the pay and opportunities they deserve.

Francine Weinberg is an activist for No HR 1044, a group opposed to the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants bill.

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