WordPress Ads

A reader informs me that when he read my last blog post, an ad appeared. Ironically, the content of the ad, at least in his case, was that older workers can get grants to go back to school and improve their careers.

Needless to say, I do NOT approve these ads, and indeed this is the first time I had ever heard of one. I was of course aware that there may be such ads, which is fine with me, but I do want to explicitly state here that I have nothing to do with the ads, and of course derive no revenue from them.

If you’ve paid close attention to my writings over the years, you will know that in most cases I do NOT recommend that older techies go back to school in the hope of improving their job prospects. “Never say never,” and yes, there are some special circumstances in which it may help, but in general, an older techie who takes some new coursework comes of the process as still being an older techie — still expensive, like before, and thus unattractive to employers who have access to young H-1Bs, OPTs, L-1s etc.


Carly Fiorina, HP, Foreign Labor and All That

An alert reader pointed me to an appearance by Professor Ron Hira on the Laura Ingraham radio show yesterday. Ingraham had asked him to respond to remarks presidential candidate and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina had made on the show on September 23, where Fiorina had said “Shame on them” when Ingraham brought up Disney and SCE’s replacement of American ITers by H-1Bs. Yesterday Ingraham wondered whether Fiorina had been a bit hypocritical, and Hira’s answer was a likely Yes.

Ron’s explanations were excellent as usual, very insightful. The gist of what he said was that not only had HP embraced hiring H-1Bs and offshoring tech work during Fiorina’s tenure as CEO, the firm actually had earlier been in the vanguard of the use of foreign tech labor. Indeed, I would add that HP was the focus of a 60 Minutes expose’ of H-1B back in 1993; see for example the section titled “Media Reports of Abuse” in a House report in 2000.

So, is Fiorina a hypocrite? I will argue here that she is not. Instead, I would point to her remarks as yet another instance of the harmful emphasis on the word replace these days (as in “replacing Americans by H-1Bs) in discussions of foreign tech workers.

I might be a little biased here, as I was quite impressed with Fiorina during the recent Republican debate. I’m a Democrat myself, but I felt that among all those on the panel, she was by far the most intelligent, knowledgeable and sincere. But I would suggest that the distorting effect of the H-1B debate’s focus on the Disney and SCE cases these days may absolve Fiorina of guilt in her remarks on the show.

I harp on this issue so much that I hardly need review it, but for completeness, here is a summary. The Disney and SCE cases make for good press for critics of H-1B, due to the dramatic nature of H-1Bs being used to replace Americans. The mainstream tech firms such as HP don’t generally engage in direct replacement like this, hence the perception that the Intels are the Good Guys while the Infosyses (one of the major  brokers of replacement actions) are the Bad Guys. But the fact is that the mainstream firms are just as culpable, as the hire H-1Bs instead of Americans, rather than to replace Americans. Either way, Americans don’t have those jobs, so it shouldn’t matter, but unfortunately, the hire-instead-of actions just aren’t visible. The vocal H-1B opponent Virgil Bierschwale, a victim of instead-of rather than the replaced-by, is a case in point, and is quite typical, based on my 20+ years of watching this issue,

I don’t mean that Fiorina was playing word games here, sneakily exploiting the specific term replace. On the contrary, I think she sincerely believes that HP’s hiring of H-1Bs, mainly foreign students at U.S. universities, was a legitimate remedy to a shortage of Master’s degree-level (not PhDs, by the way) American engineers. Actually, there was and is no shortage, but I can easily see Fiorina, as a CEO far removed from the shop floor, did mistakenly believe it. To her, “Intels good, Infosyses bad” becomes “HPs yes, HCLs no.” And as I sadly pointed out, Donald Trump, for all his bluster on H-1B, turned out to have the same misguided view. (Trump was the target of a classic zinger by Fiorina; see this article, one of the few accounts that correctly explained it.) And if you view me as naive for saying this, note that over the years, whenever I have mentioned HP in the H-1B context, I hear from readers who strongly oppose the H-1B program but  who staunchly defend HP, insisting that the company cleaned up its act after that 1993 60 Minutes piece ran.

My constant mention of the “Intels good, Infosyses bad” misperception sometimes annoys some critics of H-1B, but the perniciious effects of that misperception are everywhere. Take the recent scandal involving hiring of H-1Bs by Wright State University as a backdoor way for a non-university firm to hire foreign workers on the cheap — and without worrying about the H-1B cap. Why did Congress exempt academia from the cap? Well, sir, same answer — the misperception that the H-1Bs hired from U.S. university campuses are the “good” H-1Bs.

I have warned that this thinking will ultimately have very tangible, adverse impacts on American STEM workers: In “reforming” H-1B, Congress will impose a mild punishment on the Infosyses, while actually rewarding the Intels with an INCREASE in the H-1B cap and/or an expanded green card program. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) Bill, passed by the Senate in the last Congress, did exactly this.

That bill failed in the House, for a reason we are all aware of: The increase in H-1B was coupled with amnesty for the unauthorized immigrants. That coupling created a deadlock that has continued to this day. Democrats in Congress see those immigrants as, in Jay Leno’s clever line, “undocumented Democrats,” while many Republicans fear the same.

But maybe not anymore, now that House Speaker Boehner has resigned and seems to be slated to be succeeded by Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California’s Central Valley. Today’s newspaper headlines here in the Bay Area present a Speaker McCarthy as “good for California,” but the more likely effect is that he would be good for Latino farmworkers and the white and Japanese growers in his district. McCarthy’s stance on immigration is much more positive than those of many of his fellow GOPers, and he has been quite outspoken about it.

So, we may actually finally see a loosening of the disgraceful logjam that has been the rule on immigration legislation in Congress in recent years. In this scenario, there may be enactment of a scaled-down version of CIR. If so, it is safe bet that its provisions on tech immigration will again focus on clamping down a bit on the Infosyses, while expanding the Intels’ ability to hire foreign workers. Will this be good for U.S. citizens and permanent residents in STEM fields? HCL, no.

$85K Salary for 7 Years of Java Experience in Silicon Valley? Really?

A reader called to my attention this job ad, offering a position for a Java programmer at $85K in Fremont, an Easy Bay city considered part of Silicon Valley. (It actually makes for an interesting case study of changing Silicon Valley demographics, with the Indians becoming prevalent in areas of former Chinese dominance.)

My reader considered this $85K figure fishy, an impression that was worsened by the ad’s statement, “H-1B transfers welcome.” And to advertise a salary is rare in this field. And of course, since 7 years of experience is on the high end, there is further reason for suspicion.

To put this into perspective, consider the current Quora discussion as to whether a salary of $120-130K is enough to live on in Silicon Valley. Almost all the respondents say No (unless one is extremely frugal). They give grim dollars-and-cents expense breakdowns, and some note that the situation drove them out of the Valley, indeed out of the state, so that they could own a home and raise a family. And again remember, careers tend to be short.

So, what is really going on with that $85K figure? Could be lots of things, since there are loopholes galore in the statutes and regs, both for H-1B and green cards. I suspect, actually, that this is a “green card ad.” Whatever the route taken, it certainly shows the huge incentives employers have to hire foreign workers.

Meanwhile, the U.S. citizens/permanent residents are getting squeezed. The influx of foreign workers  (a) holds down salaries and (b) raises real estate prices to exhorbitant levels. Ouch!

I’ve made public suggestions before for economists to address issue (b). As a Bay Area homeowner, I’m a major beneficiary, but it is making life tough for those — Americans and others — who want to live the American Dream of a house and a family. So, (b) is something that is crying out for quantification, a sadly overlooked issue in the immigration debate.

SF Chronicle-Beacon Reader H-1B Project Funded by Tech Industry

I made a blog post the other day titled, “All the News That’s Fit to Crowdfund,” discussing a project between the San Francisco Chronicle and Beacon Reader. The latter, a new entity, raises funds, presumably from “average Joes,” for small journalistic projects largely regarding immigration, in this case about H-1Bs.

In my post, I had speculated that the Chronicle, though having a history of balanced coverage on the H-1B issue, would tilt much more toward the pro-H-1B side in this instance. Actually, upon a second reading of their announcement, I see that their focus will be totally on H-1Bs and would-be-H-1Bs (the latter being those who are not lucky enough to secure a visa), rather than also covering the adversely impacted U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

That’s fine (though disappointing), but there is something much more important — Beacon has strong ties to the tech industry. Its initial funding is from Y Combinator a famous incubator for tech startups. Y Combinator incubated Dropbox, one of the major driving forces in FWD.us, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s organization that promotes expansive policies on H-1B and immigration in general. In addition, Beacon co-founder Dan Fletcher was formerly managing editor at Facebook. Small world, eh?

In other words, to some degree, the tech industry is determining what Chronicle readers see. The situation is just as troubling as the Washington Monthly project I mentioned in my last posting.

Former FWD.us president Joe Green stated upon the group’s founding that among its “tactical assets” was the fact that “We [the tech industry] control massive distribution channels,,,” Apparently the grand old San Francisco Chronicle is about to become one of those “channels.”

All the News That’s Fit to Crowdfund

As we all know, newspapers are in dire financial straits. The reason generally given is “People get their news online these days,” but I think the larger reason is that many simply aren’t so interested in the news as people used to be. There are in turn lots of reasons for that, but to return to the central point, the newspapers are in trouble.

That, unfortunately, will ultimately lead to distortions in the presentation of the news, so that those of us who do follow the news will be badly misled. Yes, that was always true to some extent, but like a lot of things these days, technology makes everything writ large.

An apparent case in point is the announcement today that the San Francisco Chronicle has plans to “crowd fund/crowdsource” a news project on the H-1B work visa, with a private firm, Beacon Reader, administering the effort. Though the two companies promise “journalistic integrity,” I don’t think it can be avoided that the outcome will mainly be on the pro-H-1B side. The most critics of H-1B can hope for is coverage that boils down to “The Intels use H-1B responsibly, with the main abusers being the Infosyses.” As any careful reader of this blog knows, I consider that view to be both highly inaccurate and legislatively disastrous, actually worse than having nothing at all negative about H-1B.

I’ve mentioned recently that after the recent court decision vacating the DHS expansion of the Optional Practical Training program for foreign students, a White House petition was immediately started by H-1Bs, F-1s, employers, immigration lawyers, university administrators and others with vested interests in foreign tech worker programs, protesting the court’s action. With lightning speed, organizers of the petition had no trouble reaching the 100,000-signature mark needed for White House action. The Chronicle will find that it is inundated by the same vested interests, offering both funding and volunteers for the multimedia stories the newspaper is seeking. Hopefully some American programmers and engineers will respond as well, but there will be the usual problems — there is no one to organize them, they are the reticent types who don’t want to get involved, etc.

All this will occur in spite of the fact that the Chronicle is NOT particularly pro-H-1B. SF is a union town, after all, with quite a pro-labor history. The Chron ran a number of balanced, informative articles back when Carrie Kirby worked for them, and there have been some good ones by Carolyn Lockhead, Joe Garofoli and Carla Marinucci. The paper once even wrote a rather strongly-worded editorial criticizing the tech industry’s stance on the visa program. Don’t mistake this publication for the San Jose Mercury News.

But the enormous PR campaign by the tech industry over the years, implanting in the American consciousness the notions that “Johnnie Can’t Do Math” and that we have a STEM labor shortage, cannot but have an impact, even on a supposedly skeptical press. And since the narrative of the last few years — pushed by both the industry PR people and some critics of H-1B alike — has been “Intel si!, Infosys no!”, I think that will be the likely outcome here.

Hopefully it will not be as bad as the incident I reported on a few years ago, in which the deep pockets pro-H-1B side actually funded a major article in the Washington Monthly. The Chronicle project will in the end contain some worthwhile kernels here and there. But the overall message will be wrong.

In the “Too Good to Be True” Department

In a July 3 post, “California Legislature Discovers H-1B,” I wrote,

There is no state that is politically more pro-immigration than my state of California, especially as we grow more and more Latino demographically. And yet our Assembly has now passed a resolution calling for an investigation of the H-1B work visa. Indeed, even the list of sponsors of the bill is striking in terms of surnames:  Two of the authors are named Garcia and Hernandez, and the coauthors include many legislators from immigrant-dominated Latino, Asian and other communities, such as Chiu, Garcia, Gonzalez, Alejo, Bonilla, Bonta, Calderon, Campos, Chau, Chu, Gomez, Lopez, Medina, Nazarian, Rodriguez, Salas, Santiago and Ting.

I cautioned, though, though, that the bill, and its companion bill regarding outsourcing of jobs at utilities, would likely be political nonstarters: “Count on Democratic Governor Jerry Brown to veto Hernandez’s bill too, if it’s not quashed earlier in the legislative process.” And now exactly that appears to have occurred, as a Computerworld article reports that both bills have been sidelined. Though the bills are technically still eligible for consideration in January, it’s a safe bet that this won’t happen.

Why the change of heart? Of course, it might not be a change of heart at all — maybe it was just political posturing — but my guess is that it was explained to the Democrats, especially the Latino ones, that H-1B is the bargaining chip the Democrats have in Congress in hope of gaining amnesty for the unauthorized immigrants.

Readers may also recall that although I had earlier praised Donald Trump’s position on H-1B on August 16, a couple of days later I wrote an outraged blog piece reporting that Trump had “clarified” his position, in that he thinks those who are hired as foreign students at U.S. universities are the “good” H-1Bs. He apparently reiterated his support for giving work visas to foreign students yesterday, as Jon Feere of CIS (@JonFeere) tweeted

Not much applause for @realDonaldTrump’s suggestion that foreign students be allowed to stay when their visa expires. #immigration

I don’t know what caused Trump’s U-turn, but I suspect it is a combination of threats from the tech industry, the “Intel Good, Infosys Bad” viewpoint prevalent among some in the H-1B reform movement, and the attitude I have mentioned before in DC, along the lines of “Let’s steal China’s engineers.”


Some Interesting Details on the Wright State Case

In yesterday’s post, I discussed a scandal that emerged involving Wright State University and a local defense contractor, UES. The latter apparently used WSU as a vehicle under which UES could hire a foreign worker, Satya Ganti, without worrying about the H-1B cap, with the added bonus that the legal wage requirement, being for an academic, could be lower.

A fellow academic researcher called my attention to the fact that a number of documents related to the case were posted by the Dayton Daily News. Though most involve things like letters to various administrators, informing them that they are being placed on leave while the scandal is investigated, there also are documents pertaining to the hiring of Dr. Ganti. These turned out to be interesting reading.

Before continuing, I wish to stress that I am not saying that any laws or regulations were violated in the Ganti case. On the contrary, readers who know my writings well will recall that I constantly point out that most abuse of H-1B and related programs is perfectly legal, due to gaping loopholes. There may or may not have been illegalities here, though there definitely seems to be a gray area, as you’ll see.

The documents show that UES had a project that needed to be done, and it wanted to hire Ganti for it. However, Ganti, a 2012 PhD at WSU, had come to the end of her OPT period, which allows foreign students to work for a while in the U.S. after they earn their degrees. Thus she needed to be hired as an H-1B.  In fact, her OPT time had expired, but the WSU people noted that there is a 60-day grace period.

But since the H-1B visa program is greatly oversubscribed, there was no guarantee UES could get a visa for Ganti — unless she were hired through WSU, as academic institutions are exempt from the visa cap.

So, Ganti was hired for a position for which WSU was the nominal employer, but in which she would basically report to UES. One of the WSU memos wondered who should be Ganti’s listed supervisor at WSU. The reply from another WSU person suggested a name, but then added, “Obviously we know that the employee [Ganti] will take their day-to-day direction from their supervisor on the customer side [UES].” In the contract, in which WSU is referred to as the Seller, the Customer, UES, specifies that the job funded by the contract is required to be filled by Ganti.

So who is the real employer here? This is the gray area, something that USCIS policy people have struggled with for some years now. I know that some readers will think that UES is obviously the employer, with the university being a “launderer,” but it may not be quite that simple. It may have been planned, for instance, that Ganti would write research papers, based on her work for UES but published under the university’s name, in which case she would interact with WSU researchers who would coauthor the papers.

Or, of course, it may be that UES simply wanted to circumvent the H-1B cap and get a break on wages.

But what was in it for WSU? The documents show an Overhead item in the amount of $20,000. If a university is awarded a grant or contract for $x, it adds a percentage to that figure, ostensibly to offset expenses incurred in the project in question. Ganti would be using electricity, the university might have to buy a new desk for her, and so on, hence the Overhead charge. In practice, universities simply use Overhead as “profit centers.” In this case, the university apparently charged UES a $20K “tax” on top of Ganti’s $65K salary.

Note by the way that that made her effective cost $85,000, which is more in line with what UES would have to pay a comparable American. But as I always point out, “comparable” means young, and the typical American with those qualifications would command much more. And note that the WSU documents point out that all WSU workers are exempt from Social Security tax, whereas UES would have to pay that tax if it hired a worker directly.

By the way, Ganti’s pay of $65,000, low by industry standards, was actually listed at Level III in WSU’s application for the H-1B visa. Since the vast majority of visas are awarded only at Levels I and II, one might think that those at Level III are not underpaid. But again, her pay was judged at an academic-sector level, even though she was doing industry work.

To understand further why WSU was likely anxious to land this contract, it is vital to realize the huge role that extramural funding plays in U.S. universities. Professor Sundaram Narayanan, who was recently fired for his role in a similar H-1B scandal, was also lauded for his role in founding the WSU research institute in which Ganti was hired. The institute has grown tremendously, bringing in lots of funding, which in turn makes it in line for even further funding from the state.

The 2012 report, for example, shows the enormous importance of funding. Note that Dr. Narayanan, then just a faculty member, had grants of sizes $1.5 million from the Air Force, $750,000 from the state employment department, another $500,000 from the Air Force, and two “smaller” grants of $165K and $100K — all acquired just within one year. His prowess as a “rainmaker” likely played a role in his 2013 appointment as Provost, at a salary of $340K/year. Had he not had this fall from grace, university presidencies and so on at even higher pay, maybe even prestigious high-level government positions, say Undersecretary of Commerce, would have been his in the coming years.

Finally, one of the WSU documents suggests deceptive behavior is commonplace:  “Please note: if new employment is for research position & he/she/you decide to apply for Permanent Residency (aka ‘green card’) the job title needs to sound permanent. IE – titles with “Postdoctoral or Postdoc”…won’t be approved for green card applications.” In other words, conjure up a fake title so as to fool USCIS. Having observed the H-1B/green card process closely for more than 20 years, I can tell you that such chicanery occurs everywhere, in all the big mainstream firms, and yes, in academia too.

Nature Abhors an Unused Loophole

“Nature abhors a vacuum,” the physicists say, so no one should be surprised by the news that Wright State University seems to have gotten into the rent-an-engineer business that firms like Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and so on dominate. Ironically, academia actually has advantages over the Indian firms, in that (a) there is no H-1B cap for university workers, and (b) prevailing wage is calculated by the academic labor market, i.e. the subsistence-level salaries of graduate assistants, post docs and assistant professors. Nature abhors an unused loophole, apparently, and Wright State seems to have responded.

But this “vacuum” may have been filled years ago, as I’ve suspected for a quite a while that this is actually a common path. Intel has a research center (a “lablet,” they call it) at Carnegie Mellon University, and at several other universities as well. And I was startled a couple of years ago to find that Microsoft has its own post-doc positions. Now that the Wright State situation has been exposed, hopefully journalists will check whether abuse is occurring in these other “collaborations.”

Tech Sexism on Both Sides of the Pacific

Of late, the U.S. tech industry has come under heavy criticism for lack of diversity. By the big tech firms’ own admission, they hire very few women or non-Asian minorities. The companies say they sympathize but claim lack of a diverse labor pool. Some folks disagree, contending that in the case of women in particular, misogynist attitudes run deep in Silicon Valley.

They may have a point. In a previous post, I described typical Silicon Valley interview screening assumptions, unconscious and technically gender-neutral, but definitely of differential impact on male and female applicants, and arguably not related to the applicant’s potential to do good work. I also described a disturbing incident relating to gender that I had witnessed, and that suggests that there may well be a very serious problem.

Well, the U.S. firms can now take at least some solace in the news about a software startup in China that employs female “cheerleaders” to keep up the spirits of the firm’s mostly male programmer workforce. While exhortations to 加油! (“Go, team!”) may or may not boost productivity, the practice is, needless to say, drawing sharp criticism.

At least this will help shoot down Western views of China as a sexually conservative society, and as an uncreative culture — at least in terms of marketing. Along these lines, note the practice a couple of years ago of using unclad female models at China auto shows.

Mao famously said, “Women hold up half the sky.” But it appears to be the same half that women hold up here.


The Other Side of the Coin on Alleged Chinese Espionage

In my post last night about Rongxing Li, a former Ohio State professor now suspected of illegal export of technology to China, I cautioned, “I would suggest some skepticism about the accuracy of these early reports…” An article in today’s New York Times shows why caution is warranted.

According to Prof. Xi’s lawyer and experts hired in Xi’s defense, the professor was the victim of overzealous actions by FBI agents and a federal attorney. The government has now dropped charges against Xi. Assuming the charges are not refiled, both the government and Temple University owe Xi a huge apology.

None of this has any bearing on the Li case, and as mentioned in my last post, in many of the (mostly industrial) Chinese espionage cases, the accused have pleaded guilty. And some cases are simply not black-and-white, such as the Wen Ho Lee case, in which I was somewhat involved. The Wikipedia entry for the case is pretty accurate, in particular these excerpts:

On December 10, 1999, Lee was arrested, indicted on 59 counts, and jailed in solitary confinement without bail for 278 days until September 13, 2000, when he accepted a plea bargain from the federal government…President Bill Clinton issued a public apology to Lee over his treatment by the federal government during the investigation…The federal judge who heard the case during an earlier appeal said that “top decision makers in the executive branch” “have embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen”…In 1982, Lee [had been] recorded on a wiretap speaking with another Taiwanese-American scientist who had been accused of espionage. Lee offered to the scientist to find out who had turned him in. When confronted by the FBI about this incident, Lee said he did not know the scientist, until the FBI demonstrated proof of the conversation. Despite some evidence that could have kept the case open, the FBI closed this file on Lee in 1984.

During Lee’s incarceration, a group of us suspected strongly that Dr. Lee’s rights to due process were being trampled on, a suspicion later borne out, culminating in Judge Parker’s dramatic apology to Lee in open court. On the other hand, that earlier incident in which Lee had called a confessed spy, out of the blue, is confirmed in Lee’s own book, and those who today claim that Lee was targeted by the FBI simply because of his Chinese ethnicity — a theme seen in today’s Times article — are simply incorrect.

Hopefully the Xi case will give the government cause to be vigilant but careful. In this light, a 2013 reversal of arguably over-the-top government policy involving China and a research conference shows again how haste leads to embarrassing U-turns.