So, Why DID Sen. Blumenthal Cosponsor the I-Squared Bill?

A friend in a little H-1B discussion group I participate in asked the other day why Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) had signed on as a cosponsor of the I-Squared bill, which I characterized in my last blog post as the worst H-1B “reform” bill I’d ever seen.  Normally, I’m not interested in who sponsors what — as I’ve often pointed out, I don’t lobby, and I’m usually the last to know about the political ins and outs on legislation — but the degree to which my friend was surprised about Blumenthal and I-Squared intrigued me.  Thus I noted with interest today’s article in the New London (CT) Day, “Blumenthal Defends Bill to Increase guestworkers.”

At least judging from the article, my answer to my friend’s question would be, “Clearly, Blumenthal made some kind of political deal, and is now trying to put a good face on it.”  His phrasing in the article is mostly straight from the industry lobbyists’ standard talking points, and his attempts to rationalize his action by saying his role as a cosponsor will keep him in the game, so he can add some worker protections into the legislation, are just plain feeble-sounding.

For example, he cites the standard industry line that the long-term solution to the (claimed) tech labor shortage is to train more Americans for tech jobs, but the short-term solution is H-1B.  Of course, that presumes that there IS a shortage in the first place, which just can’t be true in view of the flat wages. But that has been the industry’s mantra for as long as I’ve been following this issue (starting in 1993!); they know that this line works, and apparently so does Blumenthal.

Blumenthal also uses another standard industry lobbyist line, “The [H-1B] law isn’t being enforced vigorously enough.”  On the contrary, violations of the law are rare (and in most cases mild), though for a very bad reason: The law is so filled with loopholes that employers don’t have to cheat in order to get cheap labor.

And finally, Blumenthal invokes the industry lobbyists’ favorite showstopper:  “[F]or every one green card recipient who gets a job utilizing high-tech skills, studies have shown that 2.6 additional jobs are created for American workers.”  This research genre is fraught with major methodological problems; even the staunchly pro-H-1B Wall Street Journal said so. The 2.6 figure comes from the industry-sponsored research of Madeline Zavodny, an economist at Agnes Scott College. Recently, analysis by R. Davis, summarized in my blog, has shown severe problems with Zavodny’s numbers.

Interestingly, Blumenthal mentions the immobility issue that I’ve said is so important, but he gets it wrong.  It’s the green card sponsorees who are immobile, not H-1Bs in general, and the 60-day rule he cites wouldn’t do much, other than giving the weaker H-1Bs more time to find another job after being laid off.

One blogger, in reviewing this London Day article, cites an interesting personal reason for his disappointment as Blumenthal’s action regarding the bill:

This is a bit of a hobby horse of mine. Years ago I wrote about the fact that The Hartford decided that my sister and her co-workers were no longer skilled enough and/or were unwilling to perform their jobs. It therefore hired H1-B workers from India to replace them, which they did, once the unskilled Americans whose jobs they were taking trained them.

Sadly, the article buys into the myth, popular among people on both sides of the H-1B debate, that the H-1B program is fine except for the offshoring firms.  (The fact that one of the “fathers” of the original H-1B legislation in 1990, current lobbyist Bruce Morrison, is from CT and holds such a view, may be coming into play here.)  No one seems to understand that to that blogger’s sister, it didn’t matter whether an H-1B replaced her and worked in Hartford, or her job was shipped to India; either way, the sister was out of a job.  It seems that if Blumenthal does manage to slip a bit of worker protection into the bill, it will concern offshoring — of NO HELP to people like the blogger’s sister.

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18 thoughts on “So, Why DID Sen. Blumenthal Cosponsor the I-Squared Bill?

  1. Norm Matloff,

    I am a long-time reader (of your articles) and an admirer. I wish that you would supply more URLs, however, such as the one for the blog post that you excerpted above:

    http://ctblueblog.com/?p=6729

    Thank you for your hard work and perseverance with respect to immigration issues. I wish that you would focus more on the even more abusive L-1 visa, though, and the fact that many H-1B’s eventually receive green cards.

    Sincerely,
    Paul D. Bain

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    • I try to include URLs, but sometimes forget.

      I believe H-1B is just as bad as L-1, and often simply use the term “foreign workers” to cover everything.

      I don’t understand your point about green cards.

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  2. Those who support the H-1B always point to the “jobs multiplier” effect. Some kind of study which shows that jobs are not multiplied, just lost, must be used to counter it. Any notion as to how to devise such a study? Of course the reluctance of those who have lost their jobs to H-1Bs to participate in such studies is a huge problem.

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    • It’s an almost impossible question to answer, since there are so many factors potentially involved. I prefer to simply point out the statistical flaws (fairly easy) and to add, “If there were jobs created, hiring Americans would have created them too.”

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    • I agree with Norm that it helps to point out that “If there were jobs created, hiring Americans would have created them too.” This is reasonable and I know of no study that has studied this, much less shown it not to be the case. However, it is possible to take one of their flawed studies and turn it against them, so to speak. I analyzed the study that claimed to have found that ” every foreign-born student with an advanced degree from a U.S. university who stays to work in a STEM field is associated with, on average, 2.6 jobs for American workers” and posted the results at http://econdataus.com/amjobs0.htm . This is the analysis that Norm blogged about at https://normsaysno.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/the-trouble-with-state-by-state-analyses-of-h-1b/ . The 2.6 number is based on one simple regression. The correlation was very weak giving support to Norm’s statement that there are actually many factors. Still, once I fixed a couple of serious errors (setting missing values to zero and using a questionable definition of the employment rate), the relationship reversed. That is, using the author’s definition of evidence, my study showed that each such foreign worker causes a similarly large LOSS in native jobs! And, unlike the author of the study, I’ve linked to all of the R code so that anyone can replicate the calculations.

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      • I generally respect Bill Kerr for his research, but in a study he did on claimed job creation effects, I actually asked him to estimate not only the H-1B job creation effect but also the American job creation effect. He refused to do so, to my amazement; he felt it was not relevant.

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  3. In a nutshell, your last line describes what is happening to the Americans who have been displaced by temporary workers brought in under various types of visas.

    Bottom line, the Calvary is not coming, and we need to develop a way to put these people back to work.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Since they won’t even review – much less believe – the government’s own numbers from the BLS and NCES, I do not know what the average person is to do.

    Do not forget that H-1Bs are available for any job requiring at least a bachelor’s degree. The business, medical, and education graduates should also be concerned especially if the IT grads are getting green cards, that leaves more competition for MBAs, BAs and not technical BSs. Lawyers are even at risk; several years ago, Microsoft sponsored an attorney for a visa and we know there is no shortage of lawyers wanting to work there.

    The qualifying degrees programs used by foreign nationals are certainly suspect (An online engineering degree is unlikely to have a laboratory component. An online IT degree is unlikely to have legitimate access to specialized software that is an expensive site license.) That is why there needs to be better validation of educational credentials. They have addressed some of the problems with the US based for-profit diploma mills but there seems to be little oversight on foreign degrees.

    Another issue is the BLS defines an associates degree as the entry level training for some IT positions. With the President’s new community college initiative, these graduates are going to be displaced by H-1B workers whose employers are inappropriately requiring a BS as a requirement.

    Some companies should have a very hard time justifying hiring H-1Bs if they use the standard job descriptions. For example, the job description for the position my son holds requires experience but no degree although one is preferred. My son has an MS in engineering plus experience and holds a senior level position although it is possible for someone without a degree to reach that level of competence as well. They cannot legitimately hire an H-1B into that position since a degree is not a requirement.

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    • The law states, I believe, that the job only be of a nature that “normally” requires a bachelor’s degree.

      One doesn’t even have to look at the statistics. Not one but TWO congressionally-commissioned employer surveys have found that the H-1Bs tend to be paid less, etc. But I doubt that there are more than 2 or 3 politicians or staffers on Capitol Hill who know about the highly damning reports.

      Try it! Call the offices of your senators and representative, and ask if they know about the 2001 NRC report and the 2003 GAO report, both commissioned by Congress, both finding that the H-1Bs tend to be paid below-market wages (in full compliance with the law).

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      • I would expect the BLS information on job requirements to have some effect on the degree requirements in the databases that dictate minimum qualifications for petition approval.

        I would not expect that there is data on the jobs (i.e. web developed, software engineer, …) for which H-1Bs were granted as well as the level of the position (1,2 … 4) which determined the minimum salary. If there were a large number of approvals issued for BLS AA/AS minimum requirement positions, there is another talking point with regard to the community college tuition proposal.

        I have been communicating with my senators and representative for years. At least one very senior member of the Senate still believes (per his responses to me despite being provided with the DOL series 62 fact sheets) that an H-1B employer must prove that there is no qualified American citizen or legal resident for the position before an H-1B is granted. It is impossible to reason with someone with a closed mind – or at least one influenced by big campaign donors who are on the cheap labor side of the issue.

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        • You’ve got to call your legislators’ offices, not write. Letters simply get tallied, not read, and often MIS-tallied. Among other things, calling means they can’t send you incorrect letters saying that employers must give hiring priority to Americans over H-1Bs.

          When you do call those offices, you need to focus on the central issue, which is cheap, immobile labor. Getting sidetracked on things like who qualifies for an H-1B will simply confuse people and hurt your case.

          But calling isn’t enough either. You need to ORGANIZE, with like-minded people.

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  5. Dear Mr. Matloff, As a tech entrepreneur, I have hired both Americans and foreigners on H1Bs. There are very few programmers who qualify through our rigorous interview process. Among the hired ones, I have seen that H1Bs are as skilled as American born. I do see a difference when it comes to overall can-do attitude, H1Bs are somehow more adaptable and also do not mind working longer hours while this is difficult for Americans (even an extra hour after 5 PM is not welcome!). This does make a difference on hiring practices in the long run on who is better among Americans vs H1B debate. In free-market, I will go for maximizing profit and productivity. Policy making is for politicians but I am a stakeholder in this whole game and should not be ignored.

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    • I’ve said many times that hiring high-quality people is hugely important. But whenever I hear about a “rigorous interview process,” I know that it likely is not strictly on quality, but instead consists of asking arcane questions that are not much related to the job.

      As to working long hours (a) surveys have shown that the Americans work long hours too, and (b) you seem to be exploiting the H-1B’s status.

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      • Rigorous interview process is to make sure that new hires are good fit for my company – not only intellectually but socially as well. I don’t always look for geniuses as I also want order-takers on the teams for a good mix.

        Linking longer working hours to exploitation is naive. Most of H1Bs who work longer hours learn new skills on the job quickly and I make sure that they are compensated well (to have low turn-over) for those skills. These are smart guys (one of the best-networked in the industry) so no employer can afford to exploit them (even in the short-term) as they will go elsewhere. Tech jobs are not for everyone, one need to adapt and learn constantly. Longer hours are win-win for both the sides.

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        • Your claim is false that they could just go elsewhere if employers were to exploit them, at least if they are being sponsored for green cards. This is one of the key “dirty little secrets” of foreign worker sponsorship. And of course it ties in perfectly with your desire to have, in your words, “order takers.”

          As to being able to learn new skills quickly, I’ve always stated that if someone can’t do that, one shouldn’t hire them in the first place. But there are lots of Americans who learn new skills quickly, whom I would guess you are simply ignoring as you fear they are not “order takers.”

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