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.