(I’ve been interviewed hundreds of times by journalists over the 20+ years I’ve been writing about the H-1B work visa and employment-based green cards. That means I’ve had my share of misquotes, in rare cases due to overt bias on the part of the journalists but in most cases due to the overwhelming complexity of the issues, as well as the world-class ability of the industry lobbyists to obfuscate the issues and confuse the hapless journalists. To reduce the possibility that I’m misquoted, I’m writing this blog post, which I will ask all journalists to read before they interview me. Meanwhile, I think this post will be informative for all you readers out there.)
Information for journalists interested in the issues of the H-1B work visa, employment-based green cards, claims of STEM labor shortages, and so on:
- I have always strongly supported the notion of bringing “the best and the brightest” talents to the U.S. For instance, I just recently responded to an employer reference request about a foreign student from China, in which I urged them to hire him. I emphasized that he is especially creative in developing software, and in response to the employer’s request for advice on how to best use the student’s talents, I wrote “Give him a lot of responsibility, and a free rein creatively,” a very strong statement regarding a new graduate.
- On the other hand, only a small percentage of foreign students in computer science (CS) are in the “best and brightest” league. In fact, research done by various academics in the prestigious National Bureau of Economic Research has shown that on average, the foreign students in CS and STEM are actually weaker than their American counterparts, which my own research has confirmed.
- I have never called for the abolition of the H-1B work visa. On the contrary, I’ve made specific proposals on how to “mend it, not end it.”
- I’ve never taken any funding on any topic (not just H-1B and related issues) from the industry or any organization with an interest in H-1B. It matters — no matter how much a researcher might protest impartiality, one does not “bite the hand that feeds one.” This is the FIRST question a responsible journalist should ask those whom he/she interviews — “Do you have any funding from the industry?”
- You should be skeptical about studies regarding H-1B and related issues. Many economists are great number crunchers, but if they don’t understand the numbers they are crunching, their conclusions can be very far off base. A case in point concerns research into whether H-1Bs tend to be underpaid, relative to the wage their skills and talent would command in the open market. Android programming skills, for example, bring about a 20% wage premium on the open market, so one must ask if the given study takes skill sets into account. See my Migration Letters paper for a detailed account of the pitfalls, and also one of my previous posts here regarding claims of “job-creating powers” of H-1Bs. And most importantly, my stance has always been that the biggest salary savings accrued by hiring H-1Bs is due to age, as noted below, something most wage studies ignore.
- Indeed, the H-1B program is largely about age. Employers mostly want new or recent graduates, and rarely hire engineers past age 35. Younger workers cost less, and the H-1Bs are overwhelmingly young. Employers say only young people have modern skill sets, an absurd claim in view of the fact that those new grads were taught those skills by “old” professors.
- My research findings that the H-1B program is widely abused are thoroughly mainstream, contrary to the “everybody agrees we need more H-1Bs” image spun by the industry lobbyists. For example, two broad-based congressionally-commissioned employer surveys confirmed that H-1B workers tend to be paid less than comparable Americans (but still legally so, due to loopholes). One of those studies documented the age discrimination issue, and noted the immobility of the foreign workers. As mentioned earlier, NBER research has shown that the foreign students at U.S. universities tend to be weaker. For the record, I happen to be a longtime registered Democrat. Click here for my bio.
- Please do NOT succumb to the industry lobbyists’ tactic of using the term native-born in place of the word American. First, it is incorrect — the tech work force, as well as the university student population, consists not just of U.S. natives but also naturalized citizens and green card holders. Second, it’s a “psych,” meant to evoke the word nativist. Trust me, this is deliberate, often leading to extremely awkward style in order to force the term several times in the same sentence.
- Please do not scapegoat the Indian IT services firms. Abuse of H-1B pervades the entire industry, including in the hiring of foreign students from U.S. universities.
- Unemployment rates can be quite misleading. CS rates may be low relative to auto factory workers, but they are similar to college grads in general. And when faced with difficulties finding work in their field, CS people often switch fields, and thus do not show up in unemployment data for CS jobs. One does have to pay the mortgage or the rent, after all.
- For many employers, especially those in Silicon Valley, the appeal of hiring H-1Bs (with green card sponsorship) is to acquire IMMOBILE workers, who in essence can’t leave them for another employer. This can be far more valuable than wage savings.
- The solutions are actually simple:
- For ALL foreign workers (H-1B, L-1, green card sponsorees, OPT), set a wage floor of the 50th percentile for the given occupation (SOC code) as a whole, NOT broken down by experience levels (so as to deal with the age discrimination issue). Employers must not be exempt from payroll tax requirements and the like for OPT workers.
- Allow all foreign workers full freedom of movement in the labor market.
- Advocates of the H-1B program often make unguarded statements counter to their carefully constructed public platform. Click here for some educational quotes.
Thanks for your attention to this complex but vital topic.