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Building a Workforce for the Information Economy
cultural, or specialized engineering skills needed for the internationalization and localization of software products.1
They bring knowledge and expertise obtained in their home countries for which the United States did not pay, certainly for K-12 education and in some cases for higher education. That is, the United States reaps the benefits of their education without paying its cost, because their home nations paid for their education.
They facilitate trade with their countries of origin and links between domestic technology businesses and those in their countries of origin. Box 5.1 illustrates the impact of immigrants on an economically important region of the United States: Silicon Valley.
They increase the level of talent in the U.S. workforce, because foreign workers coming to the United States for IT jobs tend to have higher educational levels compared to the average foreign (or U.S.) worker).2
To the extent that companies need individuals with adequate formal training in computer science, they may well turn to foreign workers who have the necessary formal training if they are unable to find domestic workers with such training.
U.S. firms may be able to reduce significantly their labor costs to the extent that foreign workers are willing to work for less than comparable U.S. workers when these foreign workers are located abroad in relatively low-wage countries. (Other reasons for U.S. firms to locate work abroad are discussed in Section 5.3.2.)
They contribute to national output. To the extent that foreign workers specialize in activities that would not otherwise exist domestically (and given growing use of IT throughout the U.S. economy, they clearly play some role in meeting demands that arise from growth), the native population benefits overall because it can consume the output of that production.3
Specialized engineering skills could entail changes in the display routines of an operating system to allow Arabic or Hebrew characters to display from right to left, without any loss of formatting, hyphenation, and page breaks, or changes in drivers to accept input from a keyboard designed for Japanese characters (Kanji). (The Japanese keyboard uses Kana, a Japanese phonetic alphabet to prompt the display of several Kanji characters from which the user can select.)
See, for example, Ellis, Richard, and B. Lindsay Lowell. 1999. “Foreign-Origin Persons in the U.S. Information Technology Workforce, ” Report III of the IT Workforce Data Project. New York: United Engineering Foundation. Available online at <http://www.uefoundation.org>.
See, for example, National Research Council. 1997. The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration. James P. Smith and Barry Edmonston, eds. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.