Editor’s note: Vivek Wadhwa is Wertheim Fellow at the Harvard Law School and executive in residence at Duke University. He is a tech entrepreneur who founded two technology companies, including Relativity Technologies in Cary. This article is reprinted with permission of BusinessWeek.

DURHAM – In the engineering globalization debate, the battle lines are drawn. Companies like Microsoft, Intel, and Oracle say there are severe shortages of skilled workers and they need more visas to bring in foreign workers to stay competitive. Unemployed engineers say this push for more visas is a plot to suppress wages. My own research at Duke University has shown that there is no general shortage of engineers in the U.S.

The globalization debate shouldn’t focus on the issue of visas. Instead, it should examine an issue that tech executives don’t like to discuss: age. Tech companies prefer to hire young engineers. Engineering has become an "up or out" profession—you either move up the ladder or you face unemployment. In other words, even though globalization has compounded the difficulties for aging engineers, it’s not the culprit.

Documenting Age Discrimination

One of the staunchest opponents of foreign worker visas is Norm Matloff, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who says careers in the programming profession are notoriously short-lived. His research into attrition rates revealed that five years after finishing college, only 57% of computer science graduates were working as programmers; at 15 years the figure dropped to 34%, and at 20 years—when most were still only age 42—it was down to 19%. This was in sharp contrast to civil engineering, where careers lasted much longer. Matloff says age discrimination is rampant in the tech industry and the importation of foreign workers into the U.S. facilitates this.

For the remainder of Vivek’s column, click on the Business Week link.