EFI and Me

Though I write extensively on the H-1B work visa and related issues, I am generally not involved politically in the issue.  If an activist asks me to attend a meeting with a politician (locally), I sometimes make myself available, but I am not pro-active.

I do, however, offer my advice to the activists if they seek it, and one point I’ve made repeatedly is that they should NOT highlight cases like the scandal that emerged today with a Bay Area tech firm, Electronics for Imaging (EFI).  My point is that the industry lobbyists themselves, especially those representing the Googles, Facebooks, Intels and so on, LOVE such cases.  Why?  Because it gives them a chance to say, “Yes, isn’t it terrible?  Congress should allocate more money to the Dept. of Labor for enforcement of the law — which the record shows that WE strictly adhere to”  —  deftly distracting attention away from the law itself, which is full of huge loopholes that the lobbyists put there so that their firms could stay legal while abusing the program.  In one case, I even correctly predicted that the industry lobbyists would react publicly in this way, using a scandal to their advantage.

So, ordinarily I would not be making a blog posting about this EFI scandal.  But I can’t resist telling a story about my interaction with them some years ago.  (Long enough ago that few, if any, of the people involved are still there, so readers should not draw conclusions about the firm currently from this anecdote.)

It all started when a student of mine, “Jack,” applied for a position with EFI as a new graduate.  Jack was absolutely brilliant, but with poor grades.  He did get an interview with the firm, as he had friends there, but was rejected.  Jack asked me to write a letter to EFI, explaining why they should hire him in spite of the poor grades.  I stated that if they were to hire him, he would turn out to be their best engineer.  Well, they did hire him, and I was told that he did indeed turn out to be one of their top people.

A year later, I had another student, “Bob,” who was a very solid engineer with good grades, but who had not yet found a software development job.  (He had been offered a QA position at a very attractive salary.)  Through Jack, Bob did get an interview, but was rejected.  A manager then called me, apologizing for not hiring Bob in spite of my recommendation, but that Bob “wasn’t a good fit” (polite way of saying he didn’t measure up).

The manager then said he would like to take me to lunch sometime, to keep up the relationship so that I’d send EFI other job candidates in the future.  I said I didn’t see the point; since it was already clear from Bob’s case that EFI’s assessment of engineering talent and mine diverged (the case with Jack doesn’t really count), why should I send them anyone else?  The manager agreed, and decided to interview Bob again.

A few days later, a higher-level manager called me, profusely apologizing, as they had again decided against making Bob an offer.  I asked the manager whether he was aware of my writings, media interviews and so on regarding H-1B.  He replied that yes, he was quite aware of that.  I then said that what happened at EFI with Bob epitomized what I write about, American employers passing up well-qualified U.S. applicants in favor of hiring foreign workers who typically are not “the best and the brightest.”  The manager’s reply?  “I think we should hire Bob.” 🙂

And in fact they did hire Bob, and gave him a good, challenging project to work on, and he worked out well.

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2 thoughts on “EFI and Me

  1. matloff: “[activists] should NOT highlight cases like the scandal that emerged today with a Bay Area tech firm, Electronics for Imaging (EFI)[1][, because it gives industry lobbyists] a chance to say, “Yes, isn’t it terrible? Congress should allocate more money to the Dept. of Labor for enforcement of the law”

    Ummm … can’t we have a “both/and” strategy here? Suppose we *do* succeed in making better law: we’ll *still* need stronger enforcement! E.g., the only sanction to EFI mentioned in the piece[1] is a $3500 fine and payment of $40k back wages–i.e., EFI was forced to pay back less than 110% of their original gain. EFI is publicly-traded, so is under some legal pressure to maximize shareholder value[2] and thus to externalize shareholder costs. (Though the widely-held view that a publicly-traded corporation has a legal “fiduciary responsibility” to maximize profits is somewhat false–the relevant case law is not so clear-cut.) If *I* was a rational agent in charge of EFI, I would hafta ask (as I am sure the relevant EFI management *did* in fact ask), is the probability of getting caught sufficiently low as to justify risking a 10% loss? And I would probably conclude, as they did, that it is.

    IMHO, plainly, we need better oversight, higher penalties, *and* better law.

    [1] http://www.engadget.com/2014/10/23/Efi-Underpaying-Workers/
    [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shareholder_value

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    • In practical terms, yes, it is either or. The ordinary citizens have extremely limited opportunity — face time with members of Congress, quotes in the press and so on — to make their case, compared to the essentially infinite opportunity the industry lobbyists get. The ordinary citizens need to focus on points that will bring them the most benefit. Cases like EFI’s, with flagrant violation of the law, are rare, according to audits (which ARE basically accurate). Instead of citing EFI, which lets Congress off the hook by allowing them to “solve” the problem by allocating more enforcement funding, the citizen activists should cite Cisco’s deception, for instance.

      You really have to ask yourself why the industry PR people love scandals like EFI so much.

      By the way, a related problem is that the citizen activists themselves are often ignorant, mistakenly believing that the basic problem really IS one of inadequate enforcement.

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