A number of people have been writing to me about the New York Times’ recent coverage of the H-1B work visa. They ran a major piece on June 3 regarding Disney’s replacing American IT workers by H-1Bs (“immigrants,” in the reporter’s inaccurate terminology), and now have run an editorial expressing concern about the matter.
Those who have been contacting me regard this as a major turnaround of NYT on the H-1B issue, a shedding of bias. I’m not sure this is true. The paper ran some excellent articles on the visa in the late 1990s (after a very bad false start), but simply stopped covering it after 2000. I’m not sure why that is the case, but on the other hand, it’s not as if they’ve been running pro-H-1B articles.
The NYT’s June 15 editorial, titled “Workers Betrayed by Visa Loopholes,” takes what I consider the right point of view overall, but in reading the piece, the following jumped out at me:
A mass influx of foreigners doing the jobs of the workers they displace is clearly not what the law intended. Congress surely did not want to give companies a more efficient means of slashing payroll costs while pushing more people to the curb. But despite common perceptions about the H-1B law, it does not require companies to recruit American workers before looking overseas.
That simply isn’t true. From what I know of the history of H-1B, cutting labor costs was indeed the intent right from the beginning, though of course it was described to the public as a means of filling labor shortages. I confirmed this with John Miano, who knows the history in fine detail, and he replied that was preparing a blog post on the matter, which is now available; I urge you to read it.
I should add, that there are some who claim that the authors of the statute did not anticipate the role of the “rent a programmer” firms, the IT services firms such as Infosys and TCS, in the H-1B picture, which is what happened in the Disney case. For reasons I won’t go into here, I find that claim credible. But it is irrelevant. It is very clear to me that the authors of the statute did intend for the visa to be used as a means for employers to hire cheaper foreign workers instead of Americans, which is just as bad as using H-1Bs to replace Americans. Unfortunately, this is something that many critics of the visa program simply don’t get, due to their unwarranted fixation on the IT services firms.
The Times also erred big-time in stating that the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, rejected by the House, would have solved the problem by adding U.S. worker protections regarding H-1B. Definitely false, sad to say.