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The Offshoring of Engineering: Facts, Unknowns, and Potential Implications
benefits through Trade Adjustment Assistance. Currently only people whose jobs are lost due to imports of goods are eligible, but many believe people whose jobs are lost because of imports of services should also be eligible (e.g., Kletzer and Rosen, 2005). Assistance might also be provided through some form of wage insurance to help displaced workers adjust if they are forced to take lower paying jobs (Andrews, 2007). Of course, these kinds of policies would have widespread repercussions and must be explored thoroughly before they are adopted.
Although a detailed examination of immigration policies for engineers was beyond the scope of this study, immigration issues are closely related to offshoring. Wyndrum argues that several major participants in offshoring use H-1B and L-1 visa programs to bring in employees, train them in the United States, and then send them back to their countries to expand the company’s offshoring operations (this volume). Abuses of these visa programs by recruiting firms have also been reported. Some workshop participants reported that their companies participate in the H-1B program to reduce costs but have found that cost and uncertainties involved in hiring visa holders can offset some of the anticipated savings. Other companies hire visa holders because they are unable to find qualified, highly trained engineers who are U.S. citizens.
There is a good deal of debate and uncertainty about the current and future role of foreign engineering students. Does the United States rely too heavily on foreign engineering talent? Might fewer foreign students study at U.S. engineering schools in the future, and might fewer of those who graduate from U.S. institutions remain in this country? Some analysts have asserted that a growing number of U.S.-educated foreign science and engineering students are returning to their home countries (Newman, 2006). However, an annual survey of foreign engineering students who receive doctorates from U.S. institutions shows that “stay rates” have remained about the same in recent years (NSB, 2006).
Some argue that, as immigration policies become more stringent, the United States will be cutting itself off from a vital source of engineering talent. Clearly, the immigration of scientists and engineers, the training of foreign students, and the overall openness of the United States to foreign talent has been a boon to U.S. engineering and to the larger U.S. economy. Others argue that stricter policies could, in effect, subsidize or provide artificial incentives for offshoring engineering, which would be just as counterproductive and market-distorting as erecting artificial barriers or penalties for offshoring.
All of these questions should be investigated thoroughly as part of the policy making process.
FINDING 10.Security concerns related to the offshoring ofengineering have been raised, specifically for the information technology and construction industries.
Concerns about national and homeland security related to offshoring have been raised in connection with several of the industries studied at the workshop. For example, offshore construction engineering and services might result in detailed plans and other information about U.S. buildings and critical infrastructure falling into the wrong hands (ASCE, 2005). Similar concerns have been raised about offshoring of engineering work that involves geospatial data (MAPPS, 2006). Legislation was proposed in the last Congress to address the latter issue, and relevant professional societies are working to ensure that sensitive information is protected within the existing legal framework.
Concerns have also been raised about whether the globalization of software development poses a serious threat to national and homeland security, particularly if accidental defects or maliciously placed code could compromise the security of U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) networks (Hamm and Kopecki, 2006). The Defense Science Board (DSB) is currently completing a study on how DOD should address these concerns. DSB previously issued a report raising concerns about the migration of semiconductor technologies offshore and how U.S. military access to critical microelectronics manufacturing capability could be maintained (DSB, 2005).
Andrews, E. 2007. Why Wage Insurance is Dividing Democrats. New York Times, March 18.
Bradford, S.C., P.L.E. Grieco, and G.C. Hufbauer. 2006. The payoff to America from globalization. The World Economy 29(7): 893–916.
COSEPUP (Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy). 2005. Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Students in the United States. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. Available online at http://newton.nap.edu/catalog/11289.html.
Council on Competitiveness. 2005. Innovate America: Thriving in a World of Challenge and Change. Washington, D.C.: Council on Competitiveness.
CPST (Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology). 2006. STEM Employment Forecasts and Distributions among Employment Sector: STEM Workforce Data Project: Report No. 7. Available online at www.cpst.org.
Davis, L.A., and R.D. Gibbin, eds. 2002. Raising Public Awareness of Engineering. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.