H-1B: The Wrong Prescription for Pharmacists

One of the urban myths about H-1B visa program is that it is only used to import foreigners for engineering and computer programming jobs. As I have reported over the years, H-1B can be used to replace almost any American worker — especially jobs in white collar professions that require a college education.

Pharmacies and big drug companies have been complaining about shortages of pharmacists for a long time. The shortage shouting reached a fever pitch from about 2006 to 2008.

One place where the U.S. economy has too many jobs and not enough applicants, is in pharmacies …… Experts say the pharmacist shortage will continue for at least a decade or more. In the meantime, at least 15 new pharmacy schools are expected to open their doors by 2010, even as existing schools expand in size.
Bill of Health – Pharmacist Shortage, Thursday, March 27, 2008, PBS

At about the same time programmers and engineers were losing jobs by the thousands, pharmacist shortages were announced. It was a lucrative coincidence for the pharmacy schools as unemployed techies used their dwindling savings to enroll in overpriced schools.

Unemployed techies had no clue that their career change to pharmacist made them just as vulnerable to the ravages of H-1B as their old one. Enrolling in pharmacy school was like jumping off one leaky boat to another.

I asked a pharmacist what his experience has been. Here is what he wrote:

I went to pharmacy school after being laid off from an engineering job at the Kennedy Space Center.

It takes 4 years to earn the PharmD degree, which is the only entry pharmacy degree now. You have to have either a BS or an Associate’s degree to get into a PharmD program, so combined, it is at least 6 years of college.

It cost me something like $100K, but tuition has been raised severely since I completed school, and it costs more now.

Now, there are more pharmacists than jobs, and more pharmacists graduating every year, with zero job growth. Now, most employers don’t want “good” pharmacists. Many want “cheap” pharmacists that work too fast, are willing to make mistakes, and in retail, they want pharmacists (often foreign) who will ignore or bend drug laws. Young, foreign pharmacists are more likely to fill prescriptions for excess quantities of narcotics, so some chains favor them.

When I went to pharmacy school, there were other engineers, accountants, teachers, etc. in the class, trying to switch to a more stable and lucrative field. Now we have pharmacists who are unemployed and can’t find jobs.

A recent article blows the lid off what is happening to the pharmacist profession. In short, job opportunities are scarce and one of the important factors why is that the job market is being flooded with large numbers of H-1B visa holders. The following quotes from this article tell the entire story: Too much manpower?, Jun 15, 2011, By: Fred Gebhart, Contributing Editor, Drug Topics, Volume 155, Issue 6

The job market is directly the opposite of the situation predicted by “experts” in 2008!

The days of too many jobs chasing too few pharmacists are history. Today, the situation is reversed. In much of the country, too many pharmacists are chasing too few jobs. With an oversupply of pharmacists entering the market, new pharmacists seeking first opportunities may have to set their sights on underserved rural communities.

Pharmacist have seen slumping salaries, which is typical of professions that have an abundance of H-1B visa holders.

Salaries are down anywhere from 10% to 17%, reported Ron Cameron, president and founder of Cameron and Company, the country`s first temporary pharmacist staffing firm.

H-1B gluts labor markets, which is what we are seeing here.

“We have gone from an undersupply of pharmacists to an oversupply in a very short time,” Cameron said. “Pharmacists are scrambling for jobs and there is a shortage of internships. The pressure is going to be down for some time. In California alone we`re looking at 5 new pharmacy schools. Pennsylvania is going from 3 schools to 7. We`re seeing that picture across the country.”

Here it is folks! The H-1B connection.

Longtime Drug Topics columnist Jim Plagakis, RPh, has pointed out that during years of high demand, pharmacy chains sponsored numerous foreign pharmacists for H1b visas to help fill the gap.

Between 2001 and 2008, CVS applied to sponsor 3,590 H1b pharmacists. Only 15 applications were denied.
Rite Aid applied for 3,448 visas, of which 33 were denied.
Walgreens applied for 1,477 visas and received 13 denials.

It`s important to note that H-1B visa holders can stay in the U.S. for up to six years, so the number that are working in the U.S. is additive.

Those foreign pharmacists are still here and presumably still working.

And they`re still coming. In 2011, pharmacy is No. 22 on the list of 50 top occupations for the H1b program, with 1,119 sponsorship applications offering an average salary of $107,442. No. 1 on the list is computer programmers, with 14,805 applications and an average salary of $62,986. No. 50 is occupational therapists, with 448 applications at an average salary of $73,464.

“You`ve got thousands of foreign pharmacists brought here by chains, which sponsored them for visas, helped them study for their exams, and now have an indentured workforce that is in no position to complain about wages or working conditions,” said California pharmacist Lowell McNichol, PharmD.

Fred Gebhart`s article shows a lot of insight until the end where he blows it big time. He makes the mistake of quoting people who predict a shortage of physicians even though they too can be replaced by foreigners by the use of H-1B, EB green cards, or the CONRAD program. Then he makes a worse faux pas by quoting somebody that says once the old geezers are all gone there will be another pharmacist shortage!

“The largest cohort of pharmacists ever graduated came out in the early to late `70s,” Maine said. “Those individuals, over the next 3 to 5 years, are going to begin to retire, presuming that the economy continues to recover. The cohort that followed, graduating in the early to mid-`80s, is the smallest cohort we`ve graduated in recent times.”

She concluded, “We are going to retire our largest cohort and the group coming behind can`t fill the void. In 3 to 5 years, we are going to be yelling again about a shortage of pharmacists.”