A Rigged System, Indeed

This election has been bizarre, to put it mildly, but the Hillary Leaks e-mail messages, confirming Bernie Sanders’ claim that the DNC actively worked against him during the primaries, are just too much. I’m a lifelong Democrat, but I changed my registration to Independent this evening in protest.

The H-1B and green card process are rigged systems too. I’m reminded of the quote by prominent immigration attorney Joel Stewart, regarding employer-sponsored green cards: “Employers who favor aliens have an arsenal of legal means to reject all U.S. workers who
apply.” Talk about a rigged system!

The Deck Chairs Shuffling Act of 2016

Computerworld reports  on a new H-1B reform bill introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa. As is de rigueur these days, the bill focuses on the market sector I call the Infosyses, the rent-a-programmer companies. The bill’s highlight is apparently to raise the current wage floor that must be paid by H-1B dependent employers, increasing it from $60,000 to $100,000. The article’s quote of Prof. Ron Hira is spot on.

In response to Issa’s bill, Hira said it “will do nothing to eliminate the abuse of the H-1B program. It simply shuffles the deck chairs on the Titanic. Instead of losing their jobs to Tata or Infosys H-1Bs, the Southern California Edison workers would be training their cheaper H-1B replacements employed by IBM or Accenture.”

Nevertheless, the quote and the article as whole somehow miss a question that a 10-year-old would ask: If wages below $100,000 constitute underpayment, why would the requirement be imposed only on a subgroup of H-1B employers? Why is it considered OK for a non-H-1B employer to cheat his workers?

And why would this question be obvious to our hypothetical 10-year-old but not to the adults in Congress, in the press and so on? The answer is that the kid hasn’t been subjected to constant indoctrination that the adults have been bombarded by, with a false message that the Intels (by which I mean the firms that directly employ H-1Bs rather than renting them from the Infosyses) use the visa program responsibly while the Infosyses abuse it.

The article also mentions the recently-introduced Pascrell bill. I am a little surprised that none of the many articles I’ve read on that bill have mentioned that it is identical to the Senate bill by Grassley and Durbin, introduced last November. I have been quite critical of that bill; Pascrell should have done much better.

Finally, an instructive note about Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, coauthor of the Pascrell bill: A reader comment on one of my blog posts states:

Incidentally, I must mention that Dana Rohrabacher (R – Orange County) who has “faced off” with Loretta Sanchez in the past, used to have a great grade with NumbersUSA on the foreign visa category. His grade is now a D-. His area (after redistricting) now includes Irvine and Newport Beach which has tech companies that profit greatly from low cost foreign workers. I was informed that the Lincoln Club of Orange County, who has members that profit from the visa dynamic have threatened Dana. They said they would find someone to run against him should he not support foreign visas. It is amazing to me how these corporate “elites” can get away with this. They need to be exposed.

Those who pressured Rohrbacher presumably were the Intels. If so, you can see why almost all of the bills introduced in the last couple of years limit their “reform” to the Infosyses.

No Contradiction in Recent Clinton Statements on Foreign Tech Workers

A few days ago,as reported in Computerworld, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke for the first time on the H-1B visa, giving hope to some critics of the visa program. Indeed, the article accompanying the interview of Clinton was titled, “The Tech Lobby Should Be Really Nervous about What Hillary Clinton Just Said.”

But just a week earlier she had announced her support of “staple a green card to their diplomas,” i.e. granting automatic U.S. permanent residency to STEM foreign graduate students at U.S. universities, and the latest article is titled, “Clinton Calms Silicon Valley’s Worries, Promises To Preserve High-Skill Visas.”

To the non-cognoscenti, it would appear that Clinton has contradicted herself, or at least has regretted and walked back her earlier criticism of H-1B. But she hasn’t; instead, she is taking what has become the standard political sleight-of-hand, sharply separating what readers of this blog have seen me warn of repeatedly — the Intels vs. Infosyses distinction. The “Infosyses,” rent-a-programmer firms such as Infosys, Tata, Wipro and so on are painted as the Bad Guys on H-1B, while the “Intels,” consisting of not only Intel, Google and the like, but basically any firm hiring H-1Bs directly, are viewed as glorious, highly deserving of the right to hire foreign tech workers.

In other words, Clinton supports giving visas to the Intels while placing restrictions on the usage of the program by the Infosyses. And lo and behold, this is exactly Donald Trump’s position as well. I’m not defending either of them, as I oppose Staple and contend that the Intels and the Infosyses are equally culpable regarding foreign tech workers, but the fact is that both of them are consistent in their views.

Clinton was a strong supporter of the Infosyses some years ago. And though the Disney and SCE cases, in which Americans were fired and forced to train their Infosyses-supplied H-1B replacements, makes for terrible publicity, one must suspect that a President Hillary Clinton would not be too harsh even on the Infosyses, let alone the Intels. This is especially true in view of the fact that the Infosyses have a lot of clout of their own. I learned today that Infosys has a sleek new building on prime Palo Alto business real estate; they obviously aren’t planning scaling back their U.S. operations.

I don’t doubt that Clinton has some sympathy for the laid-off Disney workers. But one of them, quoted in the Computerworld article, really hit the nail on the head in describing Clinton’s comments as amounting to dismissing those workers as “collateral damage.” Clinton, in other words, thinks the Disney and SCE cases were unfortunate, yet small relative to the bigger picture.

What bigger picture? The obvious one is that Clinton wants the monetary support of both the Intels and the Infosyses in her quest for the presidency. But the less obvious, and I believe equally important, reason is that Clinton, like most politicians, has “drunk the Kool-aid,” truly believing that the U.S. needs the foreign workers to keep its world lead in technology. She’s dead wrong on that — I’ve shown that the foreign worker programs are generally harmful regarding that goal — but I think she does believe it, and thus feels that U.S. tech workers must be sacrificed for the greater good.

Politically, all this has implications for Staple. It expands the pool of foreign tech workers, as opposed to merely rearranging it, as some current bills would do. That way, both the Intels and the Infosyses would be happy.

Someone asked me recently why the Intels would support Staple, as they would lose access to immobile workers, which they highly value now. I’m sure they would prefer to keep that access, but at least it would still give them a YOUNG foreign labor pool to hire from (cheaper than hiring older Americans, even after the foreigners become free agent). This is a major point, because the primary reason why employers save money through H-1B stems from the age aspect. Second, there is evidence that the employers fear that the foreign workers will simply stop coming to the U.S. in the first place, put off by the current long green card waits. And “the devil is in the details” with Staple anyway; the waiting time may still work out to a couple of years, which may be all that the firms want these workers for anyway.

Silicon Valley Turncoat Minces No Words on H-1B

Antonio Garcia Martinez, author of a hot new expose’ of Silicon Valley, was interviewed yesterday on KQED-FM, and curiously the conversation turned at one point to H-1B and related visa programs.

Though he got a bit of the technical detail slightly wrong (which became an issue, as you’ll see below; trying spotting it before I explain), he hit the nail right on the head, saying what we all know — the Valley uses foreign workers for cheap, de facto indentured servant labor — but saying this not only in a very colorful way, but also, more importantly, as a former Facebook manager and cofounder of a startup. (He also agrees that age discrimination is rampant in the Valley but unfortunately fails to connect it to the foreign worker issue.)

So, here is an excerpt, about 16 minutes into the show:

host Michael Krasny:

…Also, we want to make people think of H-1B visas, which you say is “like masters of old, buying servants off the ship” or “H-1B visas are nonimmigrant and temporary, so the immigrant hazing ritual initiation, which is done at the cheap.”

Martinez:

Yeah, I liken it to indentured servitude…That effectively is what the H-1B visa is. You have to work for a certain company for 3 to 6 years before you get…permanent status. As we learned, this came up with my [startup] cofounder, who is not a U.S. national, leaving the previous company for AdGrok, and he was threatened to be reported to the immigration authorities…And that is how the H-1B visa works, and frankly a lot of companies exploit that to get relatively underpriced labor and slave away in the “galleys” of their companies.

Very strong stuff; I couldn’t have said any better myself, and again, he’s saying it as a former Facebook manager etc.

He did make a technical error, conflating H-1B with the green card process — and that allowed an HR person to write in later in the show (about 30 minutes in), saying that the H-1B visa is transferable, and that he processes such actions all the time. The problem is that that the indentured servitude Martinez talked about was due to the green card process, technically not H-1B.

I say “technically,” because the two are intimately related: The typical Valley procedure has been to hire the foreign national and then simultaneously sponsor him/her for H-1B and a green card; the former confers temporary work rights during the years while the latter is pending. So, it was natural for Martinez to confuse the two, and HR person pounced on it. Of course, the HR guy knew full well what Martinez was talking about, but hid that from the audience in order to make it look like Martinez was all wrong.

This is no minor point; the industry lobbyists and the politicians use this ruse constantly. In fact, that HR person likely did not just “happen to be listening” to the show. On the contrary, there are likely people assigned to dog Martinez in all of his public appearances, to negate what he says about H-1B and other issues.

Note once again that Martinez is talking about the “Intels” in my favorite phrase, “the Intels vs. the Infosyses,” illustrating my point that the Intels are just as culpable as the Infosyses.

Article in an IEEE Publication, of All Places

I have a detailed article on H-1B and “staple a green card to their diplomas” proposals in the July issue of Computer, a magazine published by the IEEE Computer Society.

I’ve been quite critical of IEEE-USA on the H-1B issue over the years. After long, active opposition to foreign worker programs, the organization made a U-turn in 2000, under pressure from the IEEE parent organization, which is dominated by corporate and academic people with vested interests in H-1B and so on. They (IEEE-USA) then started pushing Staple a Green Card as an alternative to H-1B, one that I consider just as harmful, and one on which they have refused to seek member input.

I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when Hal Berghel, a columnist for Computer, asked me to write an article for the magazine. Bob Charette, a contributing editor for IEEE Spectrum who has written an excellent article debunking the myth of a STEM labor shortage, was also supportive.

So, it’s nice to see that, in spite of the actions of IEEE-USA, IEEE is not a monolithic organization, and is allowing some dissent.

Interesting Article on Staple-a-Green-Card

An alert reader spotted an article in a academic chemistry magazine on the notion of “staple a green card to their diplomas,” an oft-made proposal to give automatic permanent residence status to STEM foreign students earning a graduate degree at US universities. As I reported recently, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is the latest to endorse that idea.

The chemistry magazine article, published in the UK, is interesting for its various quotes and links. I would in particular note its link to a statement by Sen. Jeff Sessions criticizing Clinton’s proposal, and its link in turn to a Census Bureau report finding that most STEM grads don’t work in STEM.

That Census Bureau report must be viewed with caution. Some STEM grads are actually not interested in working in the STEM field, and some others, say in computer science, are not technically strong enough for such work. (This is true for both domestic and foreign students.) But in fact there are many technically strong people who are trained in STEM and wish to have such jobs, but can’t get them. I’ve mentioned here in this blog many such American workers whom I know personally. And several people have told me in the last few weeks that things have become especially difficult in recent months.

Sessions’ point, in other words, is absolutely correct.

In 2011 I participated in a workshop on foreign STEM workers in the U.S. at Georgetown University, which I have written about before. Of the two dozen or so attendees, many were from the executive branch of the federal government, especially the National Science Foundation. Most of the government people there were enthusiastic supporters of “staple a green card,” and they loved to use the word “diversion,” referring to people with STEM degrees working in non-STEM fields. Some of them used this term in an almost celebratory manner, and dismissed point that many of “the diverted” are not happy about it at all. I found the atmosphere downright Orwellian, especially since one of the participants who was promoting Staple most fervently had been involuntarily “diverted” himself some years earlier.

The Sessions press release also notes, as the chemistry magazine article does, that Staple would turn the universities into diploma mills, designing programs aimed specifically at attracting foreign students who would pay dearly for a green card “granted” by the schools. Please note that this is already happening now; see the UC Berkeley example I reported in this blog recently. Clearly, the Staple proposal would make this much worse.

Finally, the chemistry magazine piece is interesting in its quote and link to former White House CTO Park. He is a former tech CEO, and it shows: He cites the much-discredited Zavodny figure claiming that each foreign worker creates 2.62 new jobs, uses the industry-preferred (and inaccurate) term foreign-born rather than foreign, etc. With “advice” coming from people like this, it is no wonder that President Obama has been so strongly in favor of H-1B and related programs. I hate to write such a thing on U.S. Independence Day, but clearly Obama is not very independent.

 

 

Hillary, Microsoft and All Other Consummate Politicians

As many of you know by now, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently released her platform on STEM issues. Notable is her support of “staple a green card” legislation (would give foreign STEM students at U.S. schools automatic green cards), aimed at remedying an alleged STEM labor shortage.

Smart political strategy, exemplified in Clinton’s platform, is to ignore facts rather than countering them. No research study, other than those sponsored by the industry, has ever shown a STEM labor shortage. On the contrary, it has been shown exhaustively, including by the think tank allied with Clinton’s own party, EPI,that no such shortage exists. And no fancy studies are really needed, as the flat wage growth we have in STEM should immediately set the matter straight for anyone; you don’t need a weatherman to tell you it’s raining outside.

Meanwhile we see comments by another consummate politician, Microsoft president Brad Smith. He and Kansas Senator Jerry Moran write that computer science is today’s Sputnik (emphasis added):

Today we face a similar challenge as the United States competes with nations across the globe in the indispensable field of computer science.

They then write that the U.S. must make an all-out effort to maximize the number of CS-savvy workers. Oh, really? Then why is the industry shunning highly-qualified older (35+) Americans? In fact, Microsoft itself is an excellent case in point,  as Vivek Wadhwa wrote (emphasis added):

Senior Vice-President and Chief Technical Officer David Vaskevitch…acknowledges that the vast majority of Microsoft hires are young, but that is because older workers tend to go into more senior jobs and there are fewer of those positions to begin with.

In other words, tech is pretty much a dead-end job, according to Microsoft itself. And the industry has made lots of similar statements, e.g. former Intel CEO Craig Barrett’s noting that “The half life of an engineer, hardware or software, is only a few years.” This throwaway attitude exposes Smith’s grandiose Sputnik claims as a typical political shell game.

Which brings us back to Clinton, or I should say, the Clintons. If Hillary is challenged on her support of Staple, she will undoubtedly cite the fact that IEEE-USA, whose officials like to say “represents 230,000 American engineers,” supports Staple. That ignores the fact that most IEEE-USA’s members have no idea that the officials are pushing Staple, and that the organization has refused to conduct a poll of its members on the issue.

As to Bill: After his Labor Secretary Alexis Herman stated in early 1998 that the administration opposed an increase in the H-1B cap, Bill Clinton signed into law a near doubling of the cap later that year — and then went on a fundraising tour of Silicon Valley. And this was in spite of the fact that internal memos later showed that the Clinton White House was skeptical of the industry claims of a tech labor shortage. Clinton raised the cap another 70% in 2000 — just weeks before tech stocks collapsed and we entered the Dot Com Bust. (He also signed into law a repeal of the Glass-Stegall Act that same year, at the behest of the financial industry.)

And by the way, to me, Bill’s recent meeting with Atty. General Loretta Lynch on an airport tarmac is more of the same. It doesn’t matter than the two simply talked about their grandchildren; it’s clear that the old charmer simply wanted to get into Lynch’s good graces regarding Hillary’s legal problems. I say this as a lifelong Democrat who actually does have some admiration for the guy, but to me, it’s all the same, callous disregard for the well-being of the nation for political gain.