Some of you may recall seeing Michael Teitelbaum’s name mentioned often in the ongoing debate on the H-1B work visa and related issues. Among other things, he published a major book with Princeton University Press earlier this year, debunking the myth of a STEM labor shortage. In it he also explains how desire to get Congress to expand the H-1B work visa program underlies the shortage claims made by those with vested interests and their allies, such as the tech industry, the immigration lawyers and so on.
Yesterday Michael gave the Provost Lecture at my institution, the University of California at Davis, a very prestigious honor. Ordinarily this would not be surprising in view of Michael’s stellar international credentials (see the flyer link above), but his views on the H-1B shortage issues are completely antithetical to those of the UCD Chancellor and those of the dean of the UCD law school (where Michael’s talk was held), and of UC as a whole. I thus commend Provost Ralph Hexter for inviting Michael to speak.
Michael’s campus talk will soon be available on video. However, since he was speaking under the auspices of the Provost, he emphasized issues of lesser interest to readers of this blog, such as addressing the question of whether the U.S. is spending enough on basic and applied research. He did briefly mention that the claims of the shortage shouters are incorrect regarding STEM study at the K-12 and university levels (and gave an interesting example of an outrageously unfounded piece by the New York Times editorial board), and he also spoke a bit about the powerful disinformation machine of the tech industry in promoting their claims of a shortage.
I believe that you readers will be much more interested in an informal talk Michael gave to my class earlier in the day.
The class itself is unusual, an in-house course on engineering ethics. The Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology requires all engineering undergrads to get some exposure to ethics, and my department decided that this would best be done via establishing its own in-house course. This is the first time I’ve taught the course, and have taken the theme that we cover issues facing the students as future engineers, engineering managers and so on.
Michael generously agreed to lead a discussion in my course yesterday, and it led to a lively student discussion on his hypothetical case involving a CEO or manager being pressured to hire H-1Bs when he knows that qualified Americans are available for the given job openings. A number of students had comments and questions. One student strongly believed that his duty to the firm would be to ignore the Americans and hire the cheaper H-1Bs instead (though the other half of Michael’s question — should someone in that position tell Congress that the firm can’t find qualified Americans for its jobs? — apparently got lost in the shuffle).
But to me the highlight of the class came when my UCD faculty colleague Phil Martin, a prominent researcher on immigration issues, showed the infamous Cohen and Grigsby video, in which a major Pittsburgh law firm showed clients how to avoid the requirement to first seek qualified Americans to fill a position before sponsoring a foreign worker for a green card.
In the video, which the firm put on the Web for marketing purposes, unaware that it would be noticed and start a controversy, one of the partners in the firm says,
And our goal is clearly, not to find a qualified and interested U.S. worker. And you know in a sense that sounds funny, but it’s what we’re trying to do here. We are complying with the law fully, but ah, our objective is to get this person a green card, and get through the labor certification process. So certainly we are not going to try to find a place [at which to advertise the job] where the applicants are the most numerous. We’re going to try to find a place where we can comply with the law, and hoping, and likely, not to find qualified and interested worker applicants.
I had had no idea that Phil would show this video, but it certainly had an impact on the students, a number of whose facial expressions seemed to convey that they were profoundly shocked. (Note by the way that the videos filmed by that law firm also showed how employers game the system to circumvent the prevailing wage requirements, which apply to both green cards and H-1B visas, and which are below market wage to begin with,)
Another notable aspect of Michael’s visit to my class was that he recalled for us how a Microsoft official had told him privately that the firm has tons of applicants, but that it rejects most of them by applying an automatic computer algorithm, with no human involvement at all. One student was very surprised by this, and seemed to find the news a bit distressing. Actually this is a common practice in the industry, but Michael made the important point that this information is in stark contrast to Microsoft’s testimony to Congress that qualified American applicants just don’t exist in sufficient numbers. (See also a related incident with Dropbox.)
Michael was in meetings with various campus entities throughout the day, so I’m quite grateful that he took the time to address my class, and again I thank the Provost for his involvement.