Biden on H-1B

Imagine the government saying, “Women, are you worried about the tight labor market,  compounded by a gender Glass Ceiling? Don’t worry, we’re going to add more workers, mostly men.” Or, “Black and Latino owners of small businesses, are you getting hammered by Covid-19? Don’t worry, we’re bringing more small entrepreneurs from the outside, so that they can undercut your prices and dilute your market share.”

Or even better, “You Asian-American engineers and programmers out there, we know that hiring in the tech industry has slowed down, and that you already faced rampant age discrimination in the industry. But don’t worry, we’re going to reverse Trump’s order to temporarily restrict H-1B, so we can continue to have people compete with you for jobs at low wages.” No kidding on this one, because that is basically what Joe Biden said, in a June 27 digital town hall meeting focusing on Asian American issues.

Nationwide, about 25% of computer-related Bachelor’s degrees are awarded to Asian-American students (note: NOT Asian foreign students). In states with large Asian-American populations, it’s even higher, over 70% at my university.

I’m sure the image of American techies on the Hill is of “undeserving whites,” but the fact is that the field has always attracted a lot of Asian-American students, who tend to gravitate to “practical” majors. I wonder whether Biden watched the major 60 Minutes piece in 2017 about the protests by American IT people replaced at UCSF by H-1Bs. There were a number of Asian-Americans (and some blacks) among the protestors.

Biden’s a smart, astute guy, and he’s not the first to say “Choose your poison” to Asian-Americans regarding H-1B. (I recall that Sen. Patty Murray did too.) But for a major presidential candidate to be that tone deaf is amazing.

Why H-1B Will Never Be Truly Reformed

Some of you may be a little startled to know I’ve been writing about the H-1B work visa and related EB green card series for…are you ready?…27 years! Yes, since 1993. My activities during that time have included writing research papers, testifying to Congress, and so on.

The only real “reforms” made over the years have been in the direction of making things even worse, accompanied of course by “feel good” changes that look pro-worker but in reality always end up with business as usual.

So I do have some perspective on the issue, and to me, a June 24 piece in The New Republic (TNR) shows vividly how H-1B/EB will never be reformed in any meaningful way. The conversation will always be sidestracked by a distracting, unwarranted and unproductive scapegoating of the Indian outsourcing firms, which I refer to as the “Infosyses,” typified by a large firm of that name. By contrast, the “Intels,” meaning any firm, large or small, that hires most of its H-1Bs from the international student populations at US universities, are presented as using the H-1B/EB programs responsibly. Many of you know that I refer to this portrayal as “Intels Good, Infosyses Bad” (IGIB).

As I’ve explained numerous times, e.g. in my HuffPo op-ed, the Intels are just as culpable as the Infosyses, arguably actually more so.  But the Intels, armed with the best PR people and lobbyists, have found that IGIB scapegoating is highly effective. And by the way, I’ve gotten the sense many times that this scapegoating is meant to be taken as a racial “dog whistle.”

The TNR article uses the IGIB argument, and unwittingly shows the argument to be empty. Here are the two main points made:

  • The Infosyses hire H-1Bs and “rent” them out to mainstream US firms, unlike the Intels, who tend to hire H-1Bs whom they themselves will employ.
  • The Infosyses usually don’t sponsor their H-1Bs for green cards, while the Intels do.

Both claims are correct — and yet neither claim justifies scapegoating the Infosyses and glorifying the Intels.

Yes, the Infosyses rent their H-1Bs to other firms. SO WHAT? Nothing terrible about that. The ostensible reason the H-1B program was enacted was to remedy temporary labor shortages. The fact that some US firms (banks, insurance companies, HMOs) find it easier to get temporary H-1B workers through an Infosys does not counter the purpose of H-1B at all.

And what about the Infosyses not engaging in green card sponsorship? Again, SO WHAT? Again, the intended purpose of H-1B is to remedy temporary labor shortages, not as a path to permanent residence. Yes, the Intels use such a path, but the notion that the Infosyses are somehow Evil because they don’t do so is absurd.

On the contrary: Green card sponsorship enables the Intels to actually be bigger abusers of foreign tech workers than the Infosyses. It renders the workers de facto indentured servants, technically able to move around freely in the labor market but in reality trapped with the sponsoring employer. This point has been made by numerous key players, e.g. the green card sponsoree advocacy group Immigration Voice and the congressionally commissioned NRC report. Yet, in an Orwellian twist, promoters of IGIB present the Intels’ green card sponsorship as actually making them better than the Infosyses. As I explained in my HuffPo piece, for the Intels, this indentured servitude is even more important than the salary savings accrued by hiring foreign workers.

The TNR article refers to some famous cases in which a US firm used an Infosys to replace an American worker in the firm. True, but the Intels do the same thing, just less directly. They wait for a layoff, then lay off mostly older US workers, then later hire younger foreign workers. The promoters of IGIB seem to have never wondered how the average age at the Intels is kept so low. Had they read the book Inside Intel, or merely put 2 and 2 together, it would have been clear that the Intels aren’t so different after all.

IGIB goes back at least to 1998, when the tech industry convinced Congress to (temporarily) double the H-1B cap, while placing some recruitment restrictions on the Infosyses. The message from the Intels was, “Yes, H-1B is widely abused, but by the Infosyses, not us.”

It wasn’t until around 2010, though, that the non-industry critics of H-1B — sympathetic researchers, immigration reform groups and so on — embraced IGIB, actually becoming the concept’s most strident supporter. They present exactly the same arguments made in the TNR piece, excoriating the Infosyses for being agents to third-party employers and for not sponsoring their H-1Bs for green cards. The fact that IGIB is so entrenched in Beltway thinking today stems in large part from promotion by the H-1B critics themselves. The TNR piece epitomizes the result of this heavy promotion. True, the H-1B critics do occasionally mention that yes, the Intels are a problem too, but for the most part, their  statements on H-1B/EB are IGIB, no different from the industry.

(Here I must insert my usual disclaimer: I very strongly support legislation that enables “the best and brightest” to obtain fast-track green cards. But most foreign workers hired by the Intels are ordinary people, during ordinary work.)

As noted, in the nearly 30 years of H-1B’s existence, employers have always found ways to circumvent restrictions; indeed, they’ve gotten those loopholes inserted into legislation in the first place. Last week’s presidential executive order, which was focused on the Infosyses, will do very little for US citizens and permanent residents in tech, but it looks good — exactly the goal of IGIB ever since 1998.

 

 

 

Big Win for Tech CEOs, Update

In my last post, I explained why the president’s new order banning issuance of H-1B and other non-immigrant visas is a big win for the tech industry. The ban exempts foreign students, which is the main source the “Intels” use to hire H-1B engineers, whereas the “Infosyses” import workers directly from abroad. This will free up visas that would have been taken by the Infosyses, a windfall for the Intels since each year there are more applications for H-1B visas than the 85,000 cap.

I did go out on a limb a bit in pointing out that most of the pushback on the order had come from sources like the American Immigration Lawyers Association, rather than from Silicon Valley firms. At I wrote that, there was only a tweet from Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai.

Since then, a number of major tech firms have chimed in. But it’s just posturing; they know the impact of the Trump order on the Infosyses, and the benefit that will bring to the Intels. In fact, they have argued to Congress precisely along those lines, saying in effect, “The Infosyses abuse the system. Give the visas to us instead of them.”

I’ve been told by the insiders that the Trump people are still considering prioritizing the issuance of H-1B visas by offered salary. Of course, again a windfall for the Intels, who pay more than the Infosyses. (Not because the Intel’s don’t underpay their H-1Bs, which they do, but because they hire a higher quality of worker than do the Infosyses.) This would replace the current system, which awards the visa by a lottery.

One aspect I now realize I overlooked, though, is the L-1 visa, specifically L-1B, Intracompany Transfers. In the past, this was used by the Infosyses to circumvent restrictions Congress placed on them in using H-1B. But in recent years, it has also become popular with the big Silicon Valley firms; if the firm failed to win the H-1B lottery, it would “park” the person in one of the firm’s foreign offices, then bring them back to the US after a year under an L-1 visa, which has no caps. Now they won’t be able to do that, at least not without applying for an exemption.

“Can’t tell the players without a scorecard.”

 

H-1B Suspension: Such a Deal for Tech CEOs

Pres. Trump issued an executive order today suspending entry into the US for several visa categories, including H-1B, until January. Contrary to what some of you may have thought, this is a big win for the tech industry CEOs:

  • Note the language: suspension of entry into the US under the various visas. Those already in the US are exempt from the order. This means international students, who by definition are already here, are not affected. (And even future foreign students won’t be affected, should the ban be extended, as they too will be in the US when they apply for an H-1B visa.)
  • The employers who are affected are the “Infosyses,” the rent-a-programmer firms that import foreign workers from abroad, typically to work in business applications. By refusing them visas, this frees a large number of visas for the tech firms (the “Intels”).

The carve-out for the foreign students was no surprise to me. As I’ve pointed out in this blog many times, Trump has consistently stated since back in 2015 that he considers the H-1Bs recruited from US university campuses to be the “good” H-1Bs. Indeed, he has indicated that he supports special green cards for this group.

Also note that there is a little-known precedent: After the 2008 financial crash and the government bailout, Sens. Sanders and Grassley introduced a bill barring TARP recipients from hiring H-1Bs — with the exception of people already in the country under a different visa, read foreign students. At the time I assumed that the senators had been duped by the industry lobbyists; now I suspect otherwise.

As noted, the ban is temporary, through December. Not clear what will happen then, post-election, but let’s consider the impact both in the short term and longer term were the suspension to be extended.

  • The Infosyses will still hire low-cost foreign labor, as I have explained before. OPT is one route, for instance. They won’t hire computer science majors from MIT, but they’ll find lots of students from business and other majors that offer computer-related tracks.
  • With the (in effect) expansion of the H-1B program, the current oversubscription of the EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 employer-sponsored green card problems will get even worse. Pressure will increase on Congress to enact a “Staple a Green Card” law (automatic green cards to foreign students in STEM). If the current logjam in DC is resolved — Congress and the White House all Democrat or all Republican — look for such a bill to come up again, and be enacted and signed into law. Depending on the details (e.g. requiring a PhD vs. a Master’s), the impact on US tech workers could be huge.

(Note by the way that I have always supported fast-track green cards for the “best and brightest” foreign students, e.g. those with degrees from top academic programs.)

Those who’ve followed this blog over the years know that I’ve been stating all along that an eventual “resolution” of the H-1B and green card problems would come in the form of a restriction on the Infosyses but a reward for the Intels, just as we are seeing here now. Unfortunately, we’ve already seen the first praise of the policy by immigration reform organizations (CIS and FAIR). This is highly misguided, in my opinion.

The first shoe has dropped. Waiting for the other.

 

The Real Issue behind the George Floyd Tragedy

Sane voices are rightly asking us to ignore the antifa and looters terrorizing our cities in the last few days, and urging us to focus instead on the circumstances of George Floyd’s death. It is not completely clear yet what happened, but the details behind the horrific image will have very troubling truths. Are there that many rogue police officers out there? Do they have unacceptable attitudes concerning race? Are the police unions overly powerful, keeping bad cops from being fired?

But to me, there is a much deeper, fundamental question people are overlooking. On the one hand, our nation has made amazing strides. I believe the vast majority of US police officers are appalled by Officer Chauvin’s actions. The socioeconomic status of African-Americans is hugely better than in the 50s and 60s. We elected a black president, absolutely unthinkable when I was a kid. My own boss, the head of a major university, is African-American, in a way also unthinkable years ago.

And yet…the status of the black underclass is as dire as ever. How can it be, in the year 2020, more than 50 years after Martin Luther King , that we still have a substantial number of George Floyds, poor, poorly educated, poorly housed, in trouble with the police, often the victims of same?

Indeed, we stopped making progress on this segment of our society in the 70s or 80s. Politicians, including the Democrats, no longer truly care about the black underclass. What changed? African-Americans are no longer THE minority. They must compete for attention with two minorities who’ve had huge growth since the 70s — Latinos and Asians. And as I wrote in a rather long Public Interest article back in the 90s, those “new” minorities have needs different from, and to some degree in conflict with, blacks, in addition to diluting the attention the latter used to get.

Though the various pro- and con-immigration economists can debate on the numbers, even the most ardent of the pro- side concede that high levels of immigration have hurt low-skilled African-Americans, not only in the direct form of immigration but also in the importation of temporary workers. Incidents like the one after Hurricane Katrina, in which African-Americans employed for the rebuilding were suddenly told they were being replaced by “Mexicans” (not clear whether they were Americans, undocumented or on visa), are very troubling.

A few days ago I saw some very startling data, concerning rates of high school graduation. Which states have the best and worst records regarding high school graduation for African-Americans, and for the black-white gaps in those numbers? Amazingly, several states doing well in that respect are in the Deep South, and some of the worst are “progressive” states such as California, New York, Wisconsin, Illinois — and Minnesota. How could this be possible?

All those those latter states have large numbers of immigrants. Cause and effect? In general I am skeptical of state-by-state comparisons, but the pattern is disturbing.Note too my taking the 70s and 80s to be the time in which our government lost interest in the black underclass — and is also the time when immigration rose sharply.

To be sure, we could have high levels of immigration AND improve conditions for the black underclass, but in these days of “compassion fatigue,” that would be a tall order, especially since the various minorities sometimes have conflicting demands.

For example, I believe strongly in the use of Affirmative Action programs to provide role models for blacks and Latinos. But some very militant Chinese immigrants are demanding that Affirmative Action programs be disbanded.

My father was an immigrant, and my mother the child of immigrants. My wife is an immigrant. The fact is that I’ve been living in immigrant households my entire life, with different languages, strange foods and colorful holidays. Frankly, it’s where I feel comfortable.

Yet the plight of the black underclass has also been a major lifetime concern of mine. And I do believe these two passions of mine are in some conflict.

Whatever the cause, in this modern year of 2020, we should not still have a black underclass. This problem COULD be solved, and should have been solved long ago. I hope the “silver lining” of the Floyd tragedy might be a resumption of the quest of the 60s to wipe out poverty.

 

The New H-1B “Reform” Bill: Part III

As I stated in Part II, the ONLY possible criterion for the value of any H-1B reform bill must be, Would it result in substantially more Americans being hired in jobs currently done by holders of the H-1B or similar visa? To say that the current bill “at least is an improvement in terms of required wage floor” is simply wrong if it doesn’t get US citizens and permanent residents hired.

Again, the bill was crafted to benefit the “Intels” (mainstream US firms who hire H-1Bs from pools of foreign students at US universities) and punish the “Infosyses” (mainly Indian rent-a-programmer firms who US firms such as banks and insurance companies contract with for outsourcing IT work).

From the Infosyses’ point of view, their only worry regarding the current bill would be that wage floor issue. The Infosyses generally hire at Level 1 in wage scale, while for the Intels it’s usually Level 2. (The Intels do pay more, since they hire higher-quality workers, but they are still getting a bargain for the given level of quality.) But does that mean that those banks and insurance companies would now start hiring Americans? No!

Come on, don’t be naive. Does anyone truly believe that, if this bill were enacted, the yearly cap of 85,000 for new H-1Bs would not fill within days of its April 15 opening every year, like it does now? Of course it would fill up quickly. And does anyone believe that the employers’ passion for hiring cheap labor would subside? Of course it wouldn’t.

The outsourcing firms would have to raise their prices to the US firms a bit, and absorb some reduction in profits. They would turn more to hiring OPTs, typically with US Business degrees rather than Indian Computer Science, and enjoy the fact that OPT workers are not subject to payroll tax. And some US firms would calculate that it’s more favorable for them to insource, again with OPTs as a very attractive option.

Moreover, keep in mind that H-1B and green card sponsorship, especially the latter, gives employers a huge nonmonetary benefit — worker “loyalty.” I describe it in my Huffington Post op-ed:

…most Silicon Valley firms sponsor their H-1B workers, who hold a temporary visa, for U.S. permanent residency (green card) under the employment-based program in immigration law. EB [green card] sponsorship renders the workers de facto indentured servants; though they have the right to move to another employer, they do not dare do so, as it would mean starting the lengthy green card process all over again.

This immobility is of huge value to many employers, as it means that a foreign worker can’t leave them in the lurch in the midst of an urgent project. In a 2012 meeting between Google and several researchers, including myself, the firm explained the advantage of hiring foreign workers: the company can’t prevent the departure of Americans, but the foreign workers are stuck. David Swaim, an immigration lawyer who designed Texas Instruments’ immigration policy and is now in private practice, overtly urges employers to hire foreign students instead of Americans.

Water finds the lowest level. And so do employers in their hiring practices.

The New H-1B “Reform” Bill: Part II

As I wrote in Part I, the bill is built 100% on the very faulty premise that the “Intels” use the H-1B program responsibly, with the “Infosyses” being the main abusers. Let’s see how that translates to actual points in the bill.

Wage floor:

Slight reform of the definition of the wage floor for H-1Bs. Currently there are four wage levels, 1 though 4, technically defined in terms of experience and responsibility, but in actuality serving largely as proxies for age. The new floor would be at least Level 2 or the median wage, each calculated for the given occupation in the given geographical region.

Granted, this would be a bit of an improvement over the present system, and I myself formerly supported setting the floor at the median, because of the key role H-1B plays in age discrimination: By allowing employers to hire new foreign grads of US schools, the H-1B program swells the supply of young workers, so the firms avoid hiring older (age 35+) US citizens and permanent residents. Setting the wage floor at the overall median, without regard to age, would have ameliorated that back in the old days.

However, things have changed in recent years, notably in playing games with job titles. For example, HP concocted the bizarre job title Junior Software Engineer. Another example is that Wall Street hires people to do math modeling that firms pay dearly for on the open market, but for which they can get a bargain by hiring an H-1B under the job title Mathematician, which has a lower scale. Keep in mind, the new wage floor would mean Level 2 FOR THE GIVEN JOB TITLE and median FOR THE GIVEN JOB TITLE.

The new bill’s setting the wage floor at Level 2 or the median, whichever is higher, is very telling — it’s the level at which the Intels do most of their H-1B hiring. What a coincidence! Again, this entire bill is aimed at benefiting the Intels. No surprise, of course, given the Khanna connection and the general IGIB orientation of the authors.

Requirement to give hiring and retention priority to qualified Americans:

Sorry, there is none. The bill would require employers to post job openings with the DoL, but NOT require them to hire the qualified Americans who apply. The firms would have a full green light to hire H-1Bs, just as they do today.

Sec. 209(b)(4), ANNUAL H-1B EMPLOYER SURVEY, is tragicomic:

The Secretary of Labor shall— (A) conduct an annual survey of employ-19ers hiring foreign nationals under the H–1B visa program; and (B) issue an annual report that— (i) describes the methods employers [are] taking good faith steps to recruit United States workers for the occupational classification for which the nonimmigrants are sought, using procedures that meet industry-wide standards; (ii) describes the best practices for recruiting among employers; and ‘(iii) contains recommendations on which recruiting steps employers can take to maximize the likelihood of hiring American workers…

“Industry-wide standards”? “Best practices”? Their standards and best practices are to hire foreign workers instead of Americans! The phrasing above presumes that the employers are currently wringing their hands, saying, “Darn it! We’re trying so hard to find Americans to fill our jobs, but we just can’t find them! Hopefully DoL can come up with some firms that do this well, and let us know how they do it.”

Earlier bills banned hiring of H-1Bs by a company that had had recent layoffs, or was about to engage in one. That has now been softened to an anti-replacement/displacement provision, aimed at the Infosyses.

Visa awarding priority:

Rather than doling out the visas by lottery as is currently the case, the bill would grant the visas in a certain order.

Top priority would go to STEM foreign students earning advanced degrees at US schools. I know that some critics of H-1B who are non-techies naively think this is reasonable; it is NOT. Any American techie has seen lots of H-1Bs with a Master’s degree (PhDs are a small minority among computer-related H-1Bs) who are quite weak in technical skill. Same for the American MS holders, of course; the degree just doesn’t mean much. (Keep in mind all the greats in the field without even a Bachelor’s degree, e.g. Gates, Zuckerberg, Ellison etc.)

Oddly, those being hired at Level 4 only would get second priority. Assuming wages offered have at least some semblance to economic value, this is odd, as is the next priority category, foreign students NOT in STEM. Gotta make sure we don’t have a shortage of Greek Mythology majors, y’know.

Other:

The bill is very heavy on other provisions aimed at the Infosyses: Site inspections, worker complaints, verification of sufficient funds to pay the H-1Bs etc.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

As I’ve said before, there is only one criterion by which to judge reform proposals regarding H-1B etc.: Would it result in more US citizens and green card holders being hired by the tech industry? This is key, because I know some of you will say, “OK, it’s not a great bill, but it would bring some improvement.” In my opinion, it would NOT meet my key criterion — would it result in substantially more Americans being hired? If this bill were enacted, rhe employers would still hire the new-grad foreign student with an MS in Business Information Science from San Jose State in lieu of the older American (I have an actual person in mind here) with a Master’s in Statistics from UC Berkeley, one of the top Stat departments in the world.

To use my favorite quote of Grassley, long ago: “No one should be fooled” by the industry PR people. Unfortunately, the industry itself has written Grassley’s new bill.

What then is my solution? As always, my view is that we should return H-1B to the stated purpose of the old H-1 — bringing in “the Best and the Brightest” workers from around the world. The H-1B visa itself should have a very small yearly cap, say 5,000, used only for genuine labor shortages, and the scope of the O-1 visa should be greatly expanded. For example, any foreign student earning a PhD from a top US university should qualify. There should be a corresponding fast-track green card program for such outstanding talents.

(Continued in Part III.)

 

 

New H-1B Bill Sadly “More of the Same”: Part I

So, turns out that “the usual suspects” have introduced a new H-1B reform bill, proudly announced in a press release last week. Let’s see…we have Grassley, Durbin, Pascrell etc., and the new kid on the block, Khanna. To understand the bill, one must first understand the views of these men. I’ll explain the background in this post, and then present my analysis of the bill in the next one.

Khanna displaced longtime Rep. Mike Honda, a Democrat, for the latter’s Silicon Valley seat in 2016, on his second try. As a Democrat himself, not yet 40 years old, Khanna would have under ordinary circumstances failed to unseat Honda. But Khanna had enormous support from the Silicon Valley moneyed and powerful. As Politico reported at the time,

The hottest new startup in Silicon Valley isn’t a tech company; it’s Ro Khanna… The 36-year old attorney and former Commerce Department official, who is challenging six-term incumbent Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) to represent Silicon Valley in Congress, has the overwhelming support of the deep-pocketed tech community’s CEOs and venture capitalists…Khanna’s donor rolls read like a who’s who of the Bay Area tech community: Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, eBay CEO John Donahoe, and dozens of other tech or venture capital bigwigs…

Not surprisingly then, Khanna, with whom I had a formal public debate sponsored by the Voice of America in 2017, completely toes the Silicon Valley party line re H-1B:  “Intels Good, Infosyses Bad,” meaning that the mainstream firms who hire H-1Bs from the pools of foreign students at US universities, use the H-1B program responsibly, while the Indian outsourcing firms such as Infosys are the main abusers of the visa.  Note that the “Intels” include not only the household-name megafirms, but also smaller ones such as for instance the Bank of the West; the key defining property is hiring foreign students from US campuses.

(The above link is the last of four posts in which I reported on the debate and its aftermath. Follow the links if you are interested in more about Khanna.)

As I’ve explained in numerous blog posts (click here for a summary), the “Intels” are just as culpable as the “Infosyses,” actually even more so. So the “Intels Good, Infosyses Bad” is false and highly misleading. Yet, IT SELLS. The American people, and in particular Congress and the press, generally have a high opinion of the Intels. So when the latter say in unctuous tones, “Yes, H-1B is badly abused but not by us; it’s those Indian firms,” it sounds plausible. Again, it’s blatant scapegoating — I strongly suspect the industry PR people go out of their way to insert the word “Indian” — but the PR people know very well what sells. Sadly, even many of the H-1B critics have bought into IGIB.

So, what about those other authors of the new bill? In summary:

  • Grassley, a very decent, common sense person, was originally quite a critic of the visa, and at first was introducing good legislation (though it never got anywhere). However, at some point he “fell in with the bad kids,” and has had the IGIB view for some years now.
  • Durbin has always viewed the issue in IGIB terms.
  • Pascrell, though also an IGIBer, has also introduced some good, though also unsucessful legislation.

So — my gosh, what a surprise! — this new bill is all IGIB. In fact, in the above-linked press release, the quotes of ALL 7 POLITICIANS each boil down to IGIB.

Next post: My analysis of the bill itself, and what GOOD reform should look like.

Covid-19 and Silicon Valley

Here is something you won’t read elsewhere: Silicon Valley leads the SF Bay Area in Covid-19 cases — leads by FAR. As of today, Santa Clara County has had 459 confirmed cases, and 17 deaths. That case total is more than triple the next-highest, 143 in San Mateo County, which adjoins Santa Clara County is also is the home to lots of high tech, e.g. Oracle. (SM County has only one death so far.)

Silicon Valley, of course, is home to very large numbers of immigrant engineers from China, who have the means to make frequent trips to China to visit family, especially during Chinese New Year, when the virus started to spread like mad within China and started to do so in the US. Many also frequently travel to China on business, e.g. to confer on manufacturing operations for US products. This is in contrast to, say, San Francisco County, which has a large Chinese-American population but who travel much less to China.

Mind you, the current crisis has had harmful fallout to many Chinese- and other East-Asian Americans, who are experiencing abuse ranging from mere suspicious looks to outright attacks. These started BEFORE Trump started using the term “Chinese virus,” but he certainly isn’t helping matters with his language. Trump wrote a tweet the other day in support of Asian-Americans, and I hope that means he’ll use a more judicious term from now on.

Nevertheless, the “Chinese connection” is there and is clear as day. The Manhattan KS GOP official who got into trouble for claiming the city doesn’t have a pandemic problem because there aren’t many Chinese people there may have been underestimating the power of the virus but his statement did, as the Chinese say 有道理, i.e. have some truth to it.

To be sure, there is a REASON why I like living in the Bay Area rather than Manhattan KS. (Kansas State University, so conceivably I could move there). I treasure living in a region with a large Chinese population and other types of diversity. But globalization is not free of problems.

The OldTraining Trick

Haven’t posted for a while, though I do have some news events to comment on. I’ve been saving up various pieces here and there. But this one I feel compelled to post now.

Over the years, the tech industry lobbyists have found that one magic incantation fools everyone into ignoring the problems of the H-1B work visa: training.

Many of you no doubt are aware of Joe Biden’s call for teaching unemployed coal miners to code. It’s almost a “Let them eat cake” kind of attitude, not because it’s far fetched in terms of the capability of the lesser-educated to become coders — coding just requires good common sense, clear thinking, and a love of solving puzzles — but because it’s absurd to say many tech firms would deign to hire more than a token number of these “coalgrammers.”

Now we have Google offering online courses in Python coding, to fill an alleged shortage of Pythonistas. The courses will be offered at community colleges. This is exactly the grand plan that Congress hatched in 1998 to excuse doubling the H-1B cap. The idea was, hire H-1Bs now but train Americans so that H-1Bs will no longer be needed. A few years later, one of the IT trade magazines ran a major piece showing that this just didn’t work — complete with a quote from Sun Micro (major player at the time, later acquired by Oracle) that “We never intended this program to supply us with the workers we need.” The Commerce Dept. (GW Bush administration) then shut down the program. Talk about deja vu.

Google is working with Ivanka Trump on this, and there was an illuminating related interview of her dad by Laura Ingraham recently. Trump seems to really believe H-1B is no problem, because we “need” the foreign students for our tech industry, and important in the present context, because he’s going to create so many tech jobs that there will be plenty of jobs to go around.

This too is deja vu for me. Some years ago I was asked to speak to a top aide of a certain California senator, and that’s exactly what he told me too; in the next few years, there would be so many tech jobs created by the mobile app boom that no techie would have trouble finding work. Of course, it didn’t work that way.

The retraining program created in the 1998 act was in large part in response to the fact, pointed out by me and others, that many older programmers and engineers were having trouble finding work, in spite of the tech boom then in progress. The idea was to provide coursework that would enable the “elderly” (age 35+) to learn new programming languages and the like. But any good techie is quite capable of learning on his/her own, and much more important, the industry wouldn’t want to hire them anyway, even with retraining, as they are too expensive.

That is the real driver behind the “shortage” claims — younger labor is cheaper (and young foreign labor even cheaper).

And similarly, the industry’s claim that “Only the young new graduates have the latest skills” is obviously phony. Who taught those young new graduates those skills? It was old guys like me. 🙂

And finally, once again: If the Americans are the ones who need the training, why are they being forced to train their H-1B replacements, who are hired ostensibly because the H-1Bs, not the Americans, are the ones with the needed skill sets.