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Ruling raises wages in some disciplines

Spectrum Volume 21 Issue 13 - November 19, 1998

This spring's change in the "prevailing-wage" requirement for employment of certain international scientists, such as in post-doctoral or research-associate positions, turns out to have good news-bad news elements, according to Martha Johnson, assistant dean of the Graduate School.
The Immigration Act of 1990, to assure that international workers are not paid less than U.S. workers in this country, said that work visas--such as the H-1B visa that allows universities to hire international scholars for up to six years--are contingent on the employer offering a salary that meets either the actual wage offered other employees with similar qualifications, or the prevailing wage for the position in the local area, whichever is greater. In 1994, the Department of Labor (DOL) ruled, in what has become know as the Hathaway decision, that the data pool for determining prevailing wages for university researchers had to include salaries of comparable professionals from local industry.
"Thus, prevailing wages have been higher than what many departments have been able to offer," said Don McKeon, immigration advisor with the Graduate School.
Now, a new DOL rule, passed in March and effective as of May, allows universities to determine prevailing wages for researchers without input from the industrial sector. At the time, McKeon said the new ruling provided "welcome relief for colleges and universities unable to employ critical personnel needed for cutting-edge academic research."
A wrinkle, however, is that some disciplines are being grouped differently from the past, Johnson said. "Chemistry, for example, is grouped with the physical sciences, and the base wage has increased. On the other hand, salaries for international scholars in engineering should go down."
Prevailing-wage levels come from the Virginia Employment Commission, McKeon said. The VEC is using occupational employment statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Chemists are grouped with other occupations because otherwise the pool is too small, he said.
For more information, before making offers to international scholars or initiating visa applications, call the Graduate Student Support Office at 1-9568.