I asked Frank to come on to discuss some issues that are impacting technology right here in New Hampshire and if there are things that he can do to affect positive changes.
Congressman Frank Guinta is one of the NH Representatives to the United States House of Representatives. He represents the First Congressional District. The U.S. House of Representatives is responsible for creating and passing federal laws. The House is one of Congress’s two chambers (the other is the U.S. Senate) and part of the federal government’s legislative branch. There are 435 members proportionally representing the 50 states.
Frank is running for re-election to the US House of Representatives. The Primary election is on Tuesday, September 13.
Today we discussed the problem with the abuse of the H1B Visa program by foreigners at the detriment to US trained and STEM educated graduates. We also discussed STEM Education and Tech Employment.
To know more about Frank Guinta, visit https://guinta.house.gov
Below is a rush transcript of this segment, it might contain errors.
Airing Date: September 10, 2016
Craig Peterson: Welcome back to Tech Talk with Craig Peterson. We’re talking about what is going on in the tech realm and what some of our politicians are doing to help. And we’re joined right now by Frank Guinta. He is, of course, representative for New Hampshire’s First Congressional District. And we’re gonna talk a little bit about technology jobs and the impact that has occurred from some of the technology decisions that have come from Washington, DC and elsewhere. Congressman Guinta, welcome.
Frank Guinta: Hey thank you for having me Craig.
Craig: So, let’s get into this a little bit here. We’ve got all kinds of tech unemployment and employment, kind of nationwide and particularly here in New Hampshire. We’re seeing issues with H-1B visas people have been asking about and really what may amount to abuse of the system. But let’s back up a little bit here. As First Congressional representative here in New Hampshire, I know you’ve been working really hard on the whole job situation because even though New Hampshire has very low unemployment. In fact there’s a lot of techies who have been laid off who are looking for work. What can you do here? What kind of advice do you have?
Frank: Well, you know you’re right. Despite the fact that New Hampshire has a low unemployment rate, what we’re seeing in New Hampshire is that you’ll have low-paying jobs that people are filling. What we really wanna focus on is economic growth and higher job opportunity growth which, unfortunately, we’re not seeing right now in the state of New Hampshire. So, there’s a lot of things that we can do. First, at the federal level, we have to have economic growth at about 4 or 5% rather than what we’re seeing currently at 2%. And so that’s for a second way here in the state of New Hampshire, we want to be able to attract high quality employers that have high paying jobs and that’s just unfortunately not happening right now. I think because we kinda get more competitive, not just regionally but also nationally, to try to bring new employers to the state of New Hampshire. There are several things that are driving these issues. Number 1, the high cost of business taxes in the state of New Hampshire. We’re one of the highest in the country. Secondly, we have a challenge relative to our energy costs. We’re about third highest in the country. So, unfortunately employers are choosing other states because of that. Third, we have a skilled workforce problem at the state of New Hampshire. So, all of these, Craig, unfortunately put us in a position where we’re just not as competitive as we should be either regionally or nationally. And those are things that have to be addressed if we wanna have, you know, proper… better and proper growth in the state of New Hampshire.
Craig: Well that’s a really, really good point. You know the whole job situation is huge and as I look at our youth who are going through school, going through college, attending New Hampshire universities which we even have more of them we did a decade and two ago. Many of them are leaving the state because of the lack of job opportunities and you mentioned a few ways to potentially fix this. There are wage pressures, you mentioned that too. You know, there’s so many things that you said in there. You were absolutely correct. And one of the things I spend a little time looking at here recently is the whole H-1B visa situation and the problem that I’ve run into myself is that I go up at bidding against two various companies that are using foreign workers they’ve brought into the US. At any one time there’s an estimated 700,000 people on H-1B visas and the way the system’s set up, it really helps to promote a lowering of wages. You know, H-1B visas require you to pay a fair wage based on the average wage in the area. So if the average wage in the area is $50,000, that’s what you have to pay these people. Most of them are from India, but they’re from around the world. In the high tech business, you mentioned this wage pressure. In the high tech business there’s jobs that are $120,000 a year. And yet they’re only paying the foreign workers $50,000, because that’s all the law requires, required to pay the prevailing wage for the job just for the area. What’s going on with H-1Bs? We had them since 1990. There’ve been questions and some hearings before. But it seems to really be hurting the high tech area. In New Hampshire we used to be number, what was it, number 2, nationwide per capita for high tech jobs and we’ve dropped way down In that area.
Frank: Yeah, the H-1B visa program, it’s a visa program for non-immigrant visas that allow US companies to, New Hampshire companies, to employ a foreign employee in a particular occupation. And the idea behind this was, if in the state of New Hampshire, you could not find somebody to fulfill a specific job, you could go to a, you know, a foreign employment agency to provide that opportunity. So, I think the intention was good, particularly in New Hampshire you saw, maybe there is a summer or a winter position up in the North Country. It was essentially utilized for that. Well what has happened is it has crept into a larger scope. So, my understanding is that current immigration law allows for about 85,000 new H-1B visas to be made available each fiscal year. What we’re seeing though, unfortunately, is this is creeping into areas that I think had unintentional areas. So you talk about the high tech communities rather than in people who are born and raised in New Hampshire for example, getting job opportunities. You’re finding people from other countries who were fulfilling those positions. So I think what we need to do is, sort of, take a look at the program you have to be very specific. First of all, you gotta be able to first employ someone from the United States. And if that, as you said, if that does not exist, my goal would be well let’s find… if you can’t find someone here in the US, let’s figure out what the problem is. And in my sense it’s probably that, well, we don’t have educational opportunities in those specific areas. And you have to have that growth. And we should be doing that in the state of New Hampshire. So we do have to re-vamp the program a little bit because I think originally it was intended for good, but unfortunately for programs like this, Craig, you may have a unintended consequence that was not foreseen, but unfortunately is now affecting and impacting the job opportunities for people here, particularly that were born and raised here in New Hampshire.
Craig: Sure, yeah. Or native workers here. Another thing that people are brought up because so many of these H-1Bs in the tech business are from India, is that education is so much cheaper in India and that they graduate from school with a PhD and no debt at all. And I know this is a touchy subject of myself being a far more libertarian on the issue than many people. But, you know, is there anything that can be done to help with that problem? Well, if you do go to school, these kids, Congressman Guinta, are graduating with so much debt. It’s crazy nowadays.
Frank: The, unfortunately, New Hampshire has one of the highest debt ratios for a student population. So you know, there are some who would argue that well, you have to increase programmed opportunities to compete with that. I think it’s a bit of a different view. I think the more you increase, I mean, I’ve studied this, and as students, the cost of education, higher education increases, so do programmed opportunities and it’s almost like it’s a direct revenue source for colleges rather than truly helping the students. So in a way it’s not helping the students reduce their debt, it’s just providing a direct revenue source for the college and as a result, they continue to increase costs. So, we’ve gotta be far more competitive and I think we gotta start to get away from traditional 4-year college education. We have to start looking at alternatives where you might be going to college year round. And instead of two semesters, you might want to do three. Get more competitive. I’m starting to see this with some colleges in the state of New Hampshire where, you know, they can… particularly at UNH Manchester, it’s just much less expensive than University of New Hampshire in Durham. So, we’ve gotta start and I just visited the UNH in Manchester. There were some things that we gotta do. Provide this year-round alternatives at a much more competitive cost basis for a student. The other thing we can do is provide opportunities for, you know, kids who are juniors and seniors to have creditations for a certain, they even take a test out of a class and you can get a college course in junior or senior year so you don’t have to take 4 years’ worth of college courses after you graduate high school. That can also defray the cost of college tuition. So, there are things that can be done. You know, I don’t like the notion of the federal government forcing it. I think it’s gotta be from the competitive basis through the private sector.
Craig: Yeah, absolutely. And of course now more technology. There’s more online opportunity. And frankly I think it’s gonna go that way anyways. One last thing, let’s leave on a high note here with Congressman Frank Guinta. STEM education is so important. And I love, for instance, USFIRST. It started here in New Hampshire. The program has grown worldwide. It goes from kids with LEGO and first grade all the way up to building and competing robots. But not just that building businesses, marketing plans, safety training. It’s incredible what these types of programs were like. And it’s self-funding basically here. And it’s in almost all of the schools in New Hampshire. I love the program. I love the encouragement behind it. And I like the fact, too, that you’ve been helping to drive that program.
Frank: You know, I think the STEM program is a phenomenal program that goes back to prior to my term in congress. But, you know, my wife Morgan works for Dean Kamen, not just at USFIRST, but then at Segway. So, you know, we’re big believers in it. We’ve got two young kids that we wanna see excel in math and science. But you know one of the things that I think we need to recognize is at the federal level. We have, you know, I have voted there for the STEM Act. It will ward merit –based plans to elementary and secondary programs that are exceeding expectations and goals and objectives. And which also includes fellowships and trainings for instructors. I think that’s an incredible opportunity for our kids to get into, you know, those high-skilled employer-based opportunities. And the more we have our public school system that is focusing on a 21st century educational opportunity and employment opportunity rather than just a traditional C time, I think the more competitive our public schools can be. So you wanna continue to see that growth all around the country. I think, Dean Kamen, we’re fortunate to have him right here in the state of New Hampshire. If you remember Craig when USFIRST started was a very small operation, not just a national but an international operation that makes math and science cool for kids. So we wanna continue to see that grow. But we wanna make sure that our public school systems are competitive in the sense that seeing math, science, engineering are critical in terms of what your growth potential can be. And the more we have these programs, the STEM programs in schools, the more competitive kids will be as they get older.
Craig: That’s fantastic. It’s gonna help everyone. It’s gonna continue to…
Craig: Alright. Got a primary coming up and of course the general election. People can find out more by going to Guinta, that’s G-U-I-N-T-A, Guinta.house.gov, about what you’ve been doing down there. And congressman, is there a good website for people to go to? When is the primary day?
Frank: Yeah, primary’s September 13th. So the campaign website is teamguinta.com. My federal website, which is everything I’m focusing on the federal level is as you said, guinta.house.gov. And we have continued to, from a campaign perspective, run around the state and make sure we’re meeting as many of our constituents as possible. But you know, one of the most important things for me is to try to be reflective of what the views and values of the First Congressional District and I always invite people to please let me know what issues they want me to focus on. What particular pieces of legislation they want me to consider because, you know, I represent, and I’d like to let people know that we’re in the people’s house. I’m closest to the people in terms of representation and you can affect how I vote, and what legislation I file just by communication with me and talking with me about particular issues. So I always invite people to come in to the office or reach out to us, give us a call and make sure that we’re doing everything that we possibly can to effectively represent the First Congressional District. And it’s truly an honor to serve and I look forward to inviting people to vote in September 13th and then again in November general elections.
Craig: Alright. Teamguinta.com. Congressman Frank Guinta, thanks again for being with us today.
Frank: Craig, thank you so much.