Where Are They Now?

You know the genre.  Occasionally a newspaper or magazine will run an article titled, “Where Are They Now?”, and dig up the whereabouts and current activities of previously famous but now obscure movie stars, athletes or politicians.  Well, not the politicians, as we already know what they’re doing now–they’re lobbyists. 🙂

Speaking of lobbyists, it occurred to me the other day that asking “Where are they now?” would be an instructive exercise in viewing the “poster children” the tech industry lobbyists and their allies have used as examples in the press over the years.  The message has always been, “Mr. X is brilliant, so the U.S. is lucky that he is working for an American firm on an H-1B visa” or “Ms. Y is brilliant, and American firm Z would love to hire her, but the visa cap is filled, so we’re going to lose Y to one of our competitor nations.”

A couple of my recent posts here have concerned the slickness of the industry’s PR people–the industry may not hire “the best and the brightest” engineers, but they definitely hire the slickest PR people–and my topic this evening will continue that theme  Specifically, we’ll look at those former poster children.  Did Mr. X indeed turn out to be brilliant?  Did we lose Ms. Y, either to her home country or to a third nation that has a broader immigration policy than ours?  I’ve done a search in my archives, and have come up with a few former poster children.  Where are they now?

I’ll take them in alphabetical order.  I wish to state first, though, that presumably all or most of them have green cards by now, with some having naturalized.  They are either now Americans or on their way to becoming so, and I welcome them.  My complaint is with the employers and the lobbyists, not these former foreign workers.  So, here there are:

Saurabh Awasthi:

This is a case of special interest to me, as a reporter who had written about Awasthi back in 2008 called me a couple of months ago.  The reporter, Mark Roth, was worried about cases like “Ms. Y” above, saying that he believed the U.S. is currently in the process of losing lots of foreign talents due to lack of visas.  Mark told me that he had written about such “loss” in 2008, using Awasthi as an example of a foreign student graduating from a U.S. school but who had been forced to return to his home country because of a shortage of work visas.

After the call, I looked up Awasthi, and found his LinkedIn entry.  Turns out that he had not been forced to return to India after all!  He landed a job with a U.S. firm in the financial field, which had been his goal.  We don’t know whether Awasthi is brilliant, like Mr. X and Ms. Y, but as a CMU grad let’s stipulate that he must be bright.  However, the 2008 fright that “Awasthi is being forced to return home” turned out to be unfounded.

Amrita Mahale:

She was mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article about H-1B.  I’ve long supported facilitating the immigration of “the best and the brightest” to the U.S., and I believe that Mahale may well qualify.  For example, according to her LinkedIn profile, she had been a gold medalist at one of the campuses of the Indian Institute of Technology, India’s top engineering university.  Alas, she didn’t stay in engineering, choosing instead a business career, and after a couple of years at Google she returned to India.   However, this was not due to lack of a work visa, as the WSJ article said she did hold an H-1B visa.  So she was not like Ms. Y, and though Mahale may be very bright, her career has been in business management, hardly consistent with the “STEM innovator” image promoted by the lobbyists.

Cristina Martinez-Mortolo:

She was the star witness in a Bloomberg Businessweek piece titled “America Losing Technology Workers Denied in Visa Lottery.”  Martinez-Mortolo warned that without the visa, she would have to leave both her job and her husband, and return to Panama.  That was in March 2013.  It’s not clear what her husband’s status is, etc., but her LinkedIn page says she is still here, still working for SendHub.  At any rate, though she is presumably doing a fine job in Customer Support for that firm, that is hardly an earthshaking job that a U.S. citizen or permanent resident could not do.  As I pointed out at the time, a message she sent out to customers certainly didn’t sound like her job was so special:

Cristina – SendHub Support

Jan 21, 2013 06:42AM PST SendHub Agent



Thank you for reaching out with questions – we’ll be happy to

The Free plan includes 500 messages perm month. Messages you send
and receive will be discounted from your 500 available messages.

We hope this helps. Please let us know if you have more questions,
and thanks for checking out SendHub!

This mundane job may have its challenges, as most jobs do, but it certainly doesn’t live up to the breathless title of the Businessweek article.  Lots of Americans could tell customers about the Free plan too.

Sanjay Mavinkurve:

He was the hero in a New York Times article titled “Tech Recruiting Clashes With Immigration Rules.”  Mavinkurve, it seems, had an H-1B visa at the time (2009) while working for Google, but his wife didn’t, so he moved to Google’s Toronto office.  The article claimed that Mavinkurve had solved a knotty problem that had stumped Google’s engineers.  John Miano disputed this, pointing out that Mavinkurve’s solution actually used a well-known old algorithm.  But the guy is a Harvard grad, so let’s count that as best/brightest (though I know a number of Americans with similar high-powered STEM degrees that can’t get STEM work).  So, did we lose him to Canada or some other foreign country?  No, apparently not.

His LinkedIn profile says he’s cofounder of a startup in Seattle, since 2011.  Maybe his wife is in Vancouver and he commutes to Seattle, assuming his H-1B is still good.  But the bottom line is that he is cofounding an American company, not one in India as the NYT had feared.

Sandeep Nijsure:

Nijsure is Vivek Wadhwa’s lead example in a column not-so-subtly titled, “They’re Taking Their Brains and Going Home.”  Yet, by Vivek’s own account, Nijsure is the epitome of my characterization of most H-1Bs as “ordinary people, doing ordinary work”:  Degree from University of North Texas, working in Quality Assurance, i.e. software testing.  No doubt he is a solid engineer, but seemingly not out of the ordinary.  He is currently back in India, working for Symantec offshore.  Vivek writes that Nijsure had a visa and was being sponsored for a green card, but “he worried about his aging parents. He missed watching cricket, celebrating Hindu festivals and following the twists of Indian politics. His wife was homesick, too, and her visa didn’t allow her to work.”  So, the availability of a visa was at most one part of the reason he went back, and as mentioned, he was NOT indispensable in the U.S.  There are lots of qualified Americans who could do that work.

Girija Subramaniam:

She was another example in that same 2009 column by Vivek.  She was being sponsored for a green card by TI, but got fed up with the long wait, and Vivek reports, “Frustrated, she has applied for fast-track Canadian permanent residency and expects to move north of the border by the end of the year.” But no!  She’s actually in DC.  She’s been working continuously in the DC area since 2008.  She too is a test engineer, a very ordinary job that could be done by many Americans.

These are all the poster cases I could find in my archives, but the theme comes through loud and clear even in these few examples:   The lobbyists’ claims that we are losing outstanding technological talents to our competitor nations due to low visa caps is just false.  There must be some examples somewhere, but the examples given by the advocates themselves just don’t support their claims.

Note:  H-1B is only one possible path for hiring a foreign worker.  The foreign STEM students can work for 29 months after their degree; a company with foreign branches can send the worker abroad for a year, then bring him/her to the U.S. on an L-1 visa after a year; for really outstanding people there is the O-1 visa; etc.  The H-1B may be more convenient, but the notion that either it’s H-1B or not hiring the person at all is generally not true.

As Senator Grassley put it so well about the industry’s claims, “No one should be fooled.”


One thought on “Where Are They Now?

  1. Àpropos of “tech poster children”:

    The first interview on this week’s[1] “Behind the News”[2] is with Mark Ames[3] about the Silicon Valley wage-fixing cartel. The vignettes of George Lucas, Steve Jobs, Bill Campbell, and other “tech bros” as they conspired to screw workers (and the Obama administration’s tepid response) alone are worth 26 minutes of your time. Esp good starting ~7:30 into the piece, regarding how Steve Jobs (“an absolute sociopath in these private emails”) rolled-out the wage-fixing prototyped in computer animation (to keep animators poor) to the larger Valley (even to “cooks at Google and Apple”) and beyond (“Microsoft, IBM”), largely via old-school interlocking boards (“which sign each other’s checks … very incestuous”). Plus interesting

    * views of the politics of the Valley’s bosses, and how their biggest fear is antitrust law (which was used to suppress the wage-fixing).

    * Valley links to libertarianism, from the bigthink-ers of the Mont Pelerin Society[4] to the “conservatarian” Reboot 2014[5].

    Nothing about tech visas and wage-fixing, alas. BTN’s host, Doug Henwood, does some really great economic journalism[6], but is definitely part of the Great Liberal Consensus that Immigration Is Good, Period. Which really bugs me, as a socialist[7], but it’s just a fact that waaay too many folks on the left have (though they don’t want to admit it) self-enlisted in US capital’s drive to decrease wages (mostly at the bottom), increase rents (more pressure on “affordable housing”), populate prisons (could the bosses afford to lockup so much of the native underclass if they could not import replacements?), etc.

    [1]: http://shout.lbo-talk.org/lbo/RadioArchive/2014/14_08_14.mp3
    [2]: http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/Radio.html
    [3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Ames , recent pieces @ http://pando.com/author/markamespando/
    [4]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Pelerin_Society
    [5]: http://pando.com/2014/07/18/homophobia-racism-and-the-kochs-san-franciscos-tech-libertarian-reboot-conference-is-a-cesspool/
    [6]: http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/
    [7]: The political continuum regarding the appropriate roles of markets and governments in economics. Pure libertarians want no state involvement, just “free” markets. Pure communists want a state-run economy with no markets. Socialists take the rational middle: have markets where they are efficient (e.g., create no major externalities), but states should regulate markets, or create substitutes, where markets are inefficient. Most rational people are socialists, but just don’t want to admit it 🙂


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