Unclear Goal in Senators’ Letter Regarding SCE Case

Sometimes I receive so much mail about a certain topic that I feel compelled to write about it, even though I had not been planning to do so. Such is the case with a letter sent by 10 senators to Attorney General Eric Holder and other top officials, raising questions about the legality of Southern California Edison’s recent replacement of American IT workers by foreign workers.

The letter essentially asks whether SCE, and the Indian IT services firms, TCS and Infosys, that provided the workers, dotted all their i’s and crossed all their t’s. The answer is almost certainly Yes — SCE is a huge company with lots of careful lawyers. For instance, the letter asks whether TCS and Infosys are maintaining an employer relationship with the workers sent to SCE, as required by law and regulations. They are almost certainly doing so, assuming the plan, as typical, is to use the onsite foreign workers to serve as liaisons to offshore workers.

So, one must ask what the point of the letter is. I don’t see any point, which is why I originally had not planned to write about it. Perhaps the point lies in the closing sentence of the letter, which asks the recipients to notify the senders as to any “obstacles in existing law” to preventing abuse such as that in the SCE case. But does the Senate really need “permission” from the Executive Branch to fix the problems with current law?

To me, the only interesting aspect of the letter is who did NOT sign it. As pointed out in a Computerworld article, neither California senator was a signatore. A few years ago, a top aide to Senator Barbara Boxer told me that Boxer would never support any legislation that tightened up any aspect of immigration policy whatsoever, but I am somewhat surprised to see that Senator Feinstein didn’t participate in this very innocuous letter. Even more interesting is that the two most strident senators in expanding H-1B, Hatch and Schumer, didn’t agree to sign what, again, is what we in CS call a “no-op” (a placeholder machine instruction that does nothing).

As I have been warning for so long, there is far too much attention paid to the IT services firms, who provide H-1B and L-1 workers to mainstream firms. Why is it that people think it’s fine for an employer to hire a foreign worker directly but terrible for the same employer to hire a foreign worker through an agent?

And for that matter, why is overtly REPLACING Americans by foreign workers any worse than hiring foreign workers INSTEAD OF Americans? For example, does anyone really think that none of the 18,000 Americans laid off by Microsoft could have done the Microsoft jobs being filled by H-1Bs (and OPTs, etc.)?

Senators, please step up to the plate! Trying to tweak the H-1B program around the edges will only result in some kind of Rube Goldberg-style mechanisms that don’t work. As I explained in a recent post, what really enabled the hiring of H-1Bs to work at SCE was the four-tier system of determining prevailing wage, which makes young workers cheap. The ability to hire cheap young H-1Bs in lieu of older Americans is CENTRAL to the attractiveness of the program to employers, and to their ability to abuse it. Changing prevailing wage to a single number, an overall mean wage rather than four wage levels tied to experience, would have prevented the SCE fiasco in a very simple, direct manner.

And senators, if you do want to stop the abuse (a big “if”), such reforms need to be applied across the board, to ALL hiring of foreign workers. Don’t enact legislation that targets only the IT services firms, and don’t create H-1B workaround programs such as fast-track green cards for foreign students. Don’t create an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” situation for American STEM workers.

All this presumes that those senators have a genuine desire to protect American workers, which is questionable. Senator Sessions, in announcing the letter, noted that “There is no ‘shortage’ of talented Americans, only a shortage of officials willing to protect them.” Senators Sessions and Grassley are the only ones I can see with such a will, sad to say.

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13 thoughts on “Unclear Goal in Senators’ Letter Regarding SCE Case

  1. >And for that matter, why is overtly REPLACING Americans by foreign workers
    >any worse than hiring foreign workers INSTEAD OF Americans?

    Amen, brother.

    Yes, Senators Sessions and Grassley seem the only ones on America’s side.

    And that seems like an excuse to mention that unfortunately it seems that ALL the so-called conservative, patriotic Republican candidates for president are for expanding H-1B as well. Either they are idiots, or they are pre-purchased by the powers that be. The idiot powers that be, for the H-1B program cannot be in ANYONE’s long-term interest – and I argue constantly it is not even in their short-term interest.

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    • Actually, many of them support H-1B on patriotic grounds. They’ve bought into the notion that “Johnny can’t do math,” so that the U.S. “needs” the foreign workers to keep its world tech dominance.

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      • If the US educational system is so bad, why do so many international students choose to come? The vast majority of undergraduates are US secondary school educated. Johnny and Jane can do math and science – or at least they could before Common Core decided that 2+ 2 could be other than 4. The influx of foreign students and workers does more to export US technology abroad than the help the US expand the workforce.

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      • They’re politicians. If they eat a donut in the morning, it’s “on patriotic grounds”. They’ve been bought into the notion that they should vote for X, and will tell you any stories required to rationalize the vote.

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        • No, I’m not talking just about politicians. What I’m saying is that many conservatives, whether they be politicians, writers or simply private citizens, truly believe that H-1B is necessary for the nation’s well-being.

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          • One of the virtues of the Republican party tradition is a certain technophilia, going back to preferring automation to human slaves. In general terms this has often been described as being on the side of capital (for machinery) instead of labor, slave or free. Thomas Piketty recently wrote a book about how all of capitalism (sic) is thus biased towards the rich. That is, it was a virtue when it helped eliminate slavery, it is arguably not a virtue when it helps disemploy citizens. It is something of a *political* position whether it is expressed by politicians or laymen, it hardly comes up outside of political discussion, it turns any discussion where it does come up into a political discussion!

            The WSJ has published some very goofy technophilic articles over the last twenty years (they get especially emotional over bandwidth!), and one aspect of that is their support for H-1B and similar programs that favor the owners of capital and corporations against the citizens of the same communities. It is basically a new slavery. There is tremendous irony there, if anybody cares to notice.

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  2. I thought readers might want to see what comes from those Senators who are cosponsoring Squared. Jeff Flake is the junior of Arizona’s two “whacko birds” as John McCain likes to say. He’s voted 180 degrees from what those who voted him into office want, so I suspect he will be booted out of CONgress in 2018. It can’t get here soon enough!

    Dear Kevin:
    Thank you for contacting me about visas for temporary foreign workers who have professional specialties, commonly known as H-1B visas. I appreciate hearing from you.

    As you may know, an H-1B visas is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers for up to six years in “specialty occupations” like engineering, math, business, and technology. Current U.S. immigration law has set the annual H-1B visa distribution cap at 65,000 visas annually.

    I have long supported expanding the H-1B visa program as a mechanism for recruiting educated immigrants with talents and abilities that will contribute to U.S. economic success. In the past, I introduced the so-called STAPLE Act, legislation that would ensure that limits on green cards or H-1B visas would not prevent foreign students educated in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields at U.S. institutions of higher learning from staying in the U.S. and contributing to our economy. Most recently, I was pleased to join several of my colleagues in introducing S. 153, the Immigration Innovation Act of 2015, also known as the I-Squared Act, on January 13, 2015. This legislation would increase the annual cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 and permit as many as 195,000 visas in years of high demand. The bill would also make reforms to protect workers, increase access to green cards for high-skilled workers, and eliminate outdated annual per-country limits for employment-based green cards. S. 153 was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, where it is awaiting further action. The I-Squared Act provides an opportunity to reform the high-skilled legal immigration process while ensuring that the U.S. economy has the talent it needs to be competitive in the global marketplace.

    Thank you again for contacting me. Please do not hesitate to do so again in the future. I also encourage you to visit my website, which may be found at flake.senate.gov.

    And my reply:

    Dear Senator Flake:

    And this is exactly why I am using every single spare minute to educate voters why we should retire you ASAP.

    The amount of evidence of H1B’s damage is massive and absolute. By now enough evidence has been presented, to demonstrate that anyone supporting keeping, let alone expanding this program has corrupt priorities, likely tainted by campaign funds.

    You do NOT represent Arizonans, our children, nor our future. I look forward to your defeat in 2018.

    Sincerely,
    Kevin C. Brown

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    • I used to think that 6 years was the limit for a H-1B, but it is NOT.

      Apparently if they have filed for a green card, they can extend on a year by year basis until they get their green card, which means the sky is the limit, not 6 years

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  3. I agree that the substance of the letter is weak, but it really shows how hard politicians find it to object to H-1B in any way.

    It has struck me going through several H-1B battles how we’ve always had one or two Congress members fighting on our side, currently Sens. Grassley and Sessions. I think it’s sort of the way democracy is supposed to work – a pressure valve for a minority view in Congress. Of course the massive legal bribery by rich global corporations is not how democracy is supposed to function, though the Supreme Court seems happy enough with it, saying corporations are persons with the right to free speech in the form of money.

    I think the politicians who have been with us are sincere, in fact I believe Norm quoted one in an earlier fight to the effect that if they could vote how they felt H-1B would do much worse, but they just can’t fight the power of the high tech corporations. Lamar Smith was with us in ’98. I read that he was ‘pragmatic’, which I usually like in a politician, but there’s nothing less pragmatic than fighting H-1B: all the candy is on their side, and all the broccoli is on our side. Lamar later did switch to the dark side, though he still fights illegal immigration.

    In 1998 they said the quota increase to 110,000 was ‘temporary’, and for once they kept their word, because they raised it over 200,000 in 2000. You could see the tech bubble starting to burst, but they ignored that, and American tech workers were just crushed by the collapsing bubble combined with the huge H-1B quota. They felt bad enough to let the quota lapse back to 65,000 some years later.

    In 2000 there was one Senator, out of all the Congress, who voted against the quota increase. He was known as a maverick, he was retiring from the Senate, and he would not discuss his vote. They used a trick to get a unanimous House vote, based on only a few people being present or something. The unanimity is a way to protect themselves for doing something terrible, but that the elite can pretend is wonderful.

    People pointed to the Wilberforce Trafficking Amendment that was used to justify keeping unaccompanied minors in the U.S. who came from Central America – it passed almost unanimously too – and I realized they used the same trick in the House. Members want to vote for anything that increases immigration to please the business lobby, but they don’t want their name attached to it because their next opponent might use it against them, so they like that trick. Also Wilberforce was passed at the very end of George W Bush’s term – who could be so mean as to vote against the kids at Christmas?

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