Calling All High-GPA Ivy Leaguers?

After being caught flatfooted on the H-1B issue in Thursday’s debate, Donald Trump gave a firm, reasonable answer to a question on the matter at his rally in Reno: If a foreign student graduates first in his class at Harvard or Princeton, then we should grant him a work visa or green card, but not the ordinary students at ordinary schools. This certainly jibes with my views (though the question then is where to draw the line; see below).

The problem, of course, is that the tech industry wants to facilitate the immigration of not only the strongest students at Harvard, but also mediocre students at, say, Wright State University (site of the recent H-1B scandals).

The industry has such a positive image that one would think that they want to hire the brightest possible workers they can find, but in reality most of their jobs involve ordinary work — which they deem best filled by ordinary people. (An exception is Google, where you’ll find many really sharp people working on really mundane tasks.)

I’ve mentioned before the American student with a bachelor’s degree from Princeton then a master’s from Cornell, who right after graduating from the latter, was rejected three times from Texas Instruments. When I told this story to a TI recruiter, she frankly told me that TI doesn’t want to hire exceptionally bright people, presumably fearing they’ll be prima donas. So, ordinary is good, and cheap ordinary even better, hence the popularity of the H-1B program among employers.

I’ve mentioned before my research, which also cites that of others, that shows on average the foreign students are of somewhat weaker talent than their American peers. And even Vivek Wadhwa’s 2006 survey found that employers stated that, compared to the foreign engineers, the “U.S. engineers were more creative, excelled in problem solving, risk taking, networking and had strong analytical skills.”

Once again, our current policy is displacing, directly and indirectly, American workers with higher talent and hiring instead foreign workers of lower talent. This is a net loss to our economy, our ability to maintain world leadership in tech, and so on. I can’t understand why this doesn’t alarm people, even those who are critical of H-1B.

But as I’ve said so often, some foreign students really are of outstanding talent. Suppose Congress and the tech industry really wanted a policy that targeted this group. How could this be done?

Many years ago, maybe 1996, a staffer for Senator Simpson actually tried to draft legislation based on the idea of grabbing the foreign students from America’s most elite schools. His plan was to look at the rankings of the schools, and then draw the line somewhere near the top. You can see why this wouldn’t work, due to “list creep,” brought on in response to relentless pressure from the industry and academia; the line would be gradually lowered, first a little at a time, and finally opening the gates to just about anyone. In 2011, a group of us researchers were told by a high-level Obama official that Zoe Lofgren’s “staple a green card to their diplomas” plan would apply only to the top dozen schools, but later it became over 100 and possibly over 200.

And speaking of Simpson, one of my favorite quotes of him says it all: “I was working with the business community…to address their concerns [about H-1B], [but] each time we resolved one, they became more creative, more novel.” In other words, they were not working in good faith at all, and they would keep pushing a President Trump to lower the bar “just a bit.” Would he be able to resist?

The most practical proposal for taking only “the best and the brightest” programmers and engineers has been to rank by offered salary. All the applications for visas would be thus ranked, and visas doled out until the cap is reached. It’s a very crisp, clean solution, originally proposed by a union yet something that the free market worshipers could relate to. But as should be clear from above, this is not something of interest to employers, and the proposal never really got serious attention. Rep. Lofgren did put the provision into one of her bills to apply to H-1B, but the bill also included “staple a green card,” with NO such provision. So the top talents would come in through the front door, but the back door would be open for everyone else.

Alas, a President Trump, or for that matter a President Sanders, would do well to consult with Alan Simpson — a renegade, just like them — on this issue.

22 thoughts on “Calling All High-GPA Ivy Leaguers?

  1. I am disgusted by a presidential candidate expressing such elitism, this is exactly where Trump’s billions could cause him to lose a seriously contested race (which the Republican primary so far is not, all of the candidates are losers if you ask me). It is entirely un-American.

    As everyone also knows, not all the students at the Ivy League schools are the best and the brightest, either. Plenty of legacy students and dumb offspring of rich donors. In fact any of this “best and brightest” stuff is presumably offensive to the American tradition. Was Einstein a “best and brightest” student? Was Bill Gates?

    This is why even an O-1 visa should never issue just because someone is claimed to be so smart. Make the sponsoring agency put some money where their mouth is. Actually we already have that, it’s the E visas, show half a million bucks and you get to come in, even if you’re the worst and the dimmest. That’s market forces for ya: money talks, BS walks.


    • O-1 and the National Interest Waiver for green cards rely on demonstrating genuine achievements, not a degree from a famous school. I’m not saying that those two policies work perfectly, but they are certainly not so coarse as to rely on pedigree.


      • Good. Achievement is better than pedigree. Just so a Harvard degree is not considered an achievement!

        I should probably qualify my comments on Einstein, btw. There is a “myth” that he was not a good student, because he may have ignored his homework in one area to focus on another, and anyway he already knew it all! But that is sort of the point, even a genius may not have qualified by pedigree. Trump’s idea of an Ivy League waiver is just bad, bad, bad policy.


        • I have many times that a high-powered degree is neither necessary nor sufficient for being talented. However, policy always deals with proxies, and this one would not be too far off the mark.

          Einstein was what much later became termed by university admissions officers as “angular” rather than well-rounded. As you say, he really focused on the material he liked and ignored the rest.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Salary ranking is the best suggestion I have heard so far for H1b. But having worked at so many H1b abusers over the years, there are other issues that in my opinion must be addressed.

    The first and foremost in my opinion is diversity. I have worked at organizations that were truly diverse. Lots of women, Hispanics, whites, South Asians, etc… No one group dominated the culture. I never felt left out. The teamwork was excellent. The work place was healthy. On the opposite side of spectrum which is almost the norm at most Tech/IT organizations are dominated by South Asians on some sort of work visa. I can just describe them all in one word SWEAT SHOP coupled with a culture and value system that is unbearable and hostile to anyone is not a South Asian.

    To give you an example, I was recently laid off from a short term contract at one of these Sweat shops. I had a great relationship with my manager and the rest of my coworkers. At the time of cuts, my boss called me and said in her own words that there is of course reverse discrimination going on, people like to work with their own kind. The place was almost 95% South Asian. This is not to mention by design communication problems I had to deal as the folks around me spoke in their mother tongue many times with express purpose of leaving me out on important issues. I ended up getting a better job in a short period of time afterward but so far I have had several talks with my manager about the same issue but so far the management seems to be taking my side. That is why I am still employed. But this place is far more diverse than previous one.

    Let’s not forget about L1. To me that is a far bigger problem than H1b. Most organizations have large offshore operations with 100’s people for every worker onshore. The ones that bubble to top or for mundane tasks, I see them come onshore within days of decision to do so.

    When they get here the abuse they endure is excruciating painful for them and anyone working in that environment. Bottom line we the American workers are being screwed so many different ways by cheap foreign labor, in all honestly I am surprised that I am still working in the industry though at far worse working conditions compared to just a few years ago at same pay.


    • The problems you describe are quite common, and provide a good argument for retaining the current per-country limits on green cards, which many people want to have dropped.


      • If the idea of country caps (for LPR) is not to be dropped, the same caps should be made applicable to the visa categories that feed into LPR pipeline – Let’s put a country cap on H-1, L-1, F-1.

        I’d like to know if any such proposals been made in the past of having the immigration pipe being uniform.

        Totally agree with @Adrian on L-1 issue; H-1 has become everyone’s favorite. No one (including the so-called media outlets that report ‘fairly’ and are appreciated on this forum) covers L-1 to the extent that it should be.

        As an example, no stats are available on EB-1C since they do not go through PERM process and DOL never needs to report those numbers. The so-called sweatshops are sneaking hordes of folks under the radar via EB-1C. Since there are no PERM stats available, the ‘anti-H-1’ number crunchers do not have a clue of what’s happening on L-1 side of the world. For these folks, it’s H-1 that harming the system (it surely is) since they can rake years of data from DOL – Salary wise, employer wise, profession wise.

        All I hear is H-1 yelling by everyone and their favorite media outlet/lobby group/politician/presidential candidates. Not that it should not be highlighted, but L-1 usage/abuse is not getting the attention it should.

        The two voices that are getting muffled in this entire process are the displaced american workforce and the indentured immigrant workforce.

        Bottom line, all that the congress is doing is quote numbers/testimonials and research studies by academia (EPI/CATO etc) / lobbyists (FWD.US etc), trashing down every bill thats coming their way, thus maintaining an unhealthy status quo. This seems to be a reason for the congress to *not* do any reform (or “fix” the law, if not reform) when in fact, a reform/fix *should* be made based on these numbers and testimonials.

        Oh well, until such time, there are forums like to these to vent out stuff.


        • I really doubt that the bodyshops are using EB-1, which is difficult to get. L-1 is indeed a problem, especially since the big mainstream firms are using it a lot.

          Congress would PREFER not to know the facts.


          • Yes and No – Its the EB-1A and EB-1B that are very difficult to get approvals for.

            EB-1C is the one about ‘multinational managers’ which is relatively lax and easy to get approval for. I am not *guessing* about this particular category. I have witnessed this personally and there are several forums out there on the net how folks get on the EB-1C boat. The bits and pieces I am picking up, CTS (Cognizant ?) is the employer that uses mostly EB-1C and it looks like a ‘trend’ has just begun. Other ‘mainstream firms’ like this are likely to follow the suit very soon.

            Personally I am trying to get numbers on this one category. The only way to know it is looking at USCIS/DOS numbers and the spillovers from EB-1 to EB-2 category. Unfortunately these numbers are something that DOS/USCIS do not like to reveal.


          • Looking at

            Click to access FY14AnnualReport-TableV-PartII.pdf

            From the report above, I do not think all ~13000 folks with LPR (or AOS) were in EB-1 (india, as an example) are einsteins. In other words, I do not think they go through EB-1A or EB-1B. Most are through EB-1C….

            And this 13000 never show up in DOLs PERM database (or even half of that number, assuming it takes 2 visas for employee+spouse)


          • It’s hard to believe that there are that many managers, but it certainly would be interesting to see the statistics broken down that way.


    • > Most organizations have large offshore operations with 100’s people for every worker onshore.

      That’s the case with our company. They’ve created a large data center in India where most of our programmers are now located. Meanwhile, our local site has shrunk from 4 buildings to a part of one floor with 20-30 programmers and QA.

      > Bottom line we the American workers are being screwed so many different ways by cheap foreign labor, in all honestly I am surprised that I am still working in the industry though at far worse working conditions compared to just a few years ago at same pay.

      True. Our site has become a true sweat shop. I think that it’s been worse by the agile system which has been used by our upper-management as a way to micromanage us. Every day, we have a stand-up meeting (more like an interrogation) where we have to explain why we have once again not made our commitments. The commitments, of course, are made by upper management who have no clue as to how long the tasks will take. Then the 3-week sprint process ensures that there is no uncommitted time to fix our environments, prepare for the next task, or recover from the last task. In essence, we are excellent 3-ball jugglers but upper management keeps demanding that we juggle 4 or 5 balls and acting mystified when balls end up on the floor. It all worked so well on their white boards!

      Like many employees there, I’m just looking for a graceful way to exit at this point. When I first started working, I remember seeing some of the older programmers who had worked out an arrangement to cut back to 4 days a week. Instead, my career seems to be going in reverse, having to work harder and longer under worse conditions with every passing year. It seems that the only way to get time off now is to work on contract. Then at least you get time off between contracts. Also, contracting seems like a more honest form of work these days. You get an hours pay for an hours work and there is no pretense that you will be richly rewarded in the future for all of your hard work now.


  3. Any H-1B worker whose profession has credentialing (engineers for example) should possess the credential for the experience level of their profession. In my example, a new graduate would need to be an Engineering Intern and an individual with four or more years of time from their college degree must be a Registered Professional Engineer or international equivalent. The medical professions require credentials for guest workers, why should other professions not as well.

    The requirements for IT professionals are more difficult to define in general however there are certain skills that have certifications that should be the standard for working in the field.

    There also should be the requirement that graduates must be from foreign institutions accredited by the international organizations accepted by the various International Mutual Recognition Agreements in order to assure the quality of the academic program of the H-1B candidates.


    • This is one area that I disagree with most on.

      Many of us learned our trade in the military and we do not have degrees nor certifications.

      Nor do we value certifications as we have seen those that have impeccable credentials, yet they do not understand the most basic elements of a production environment that is dynamic let alone the necessity for a separate development and test environment.

      Why do we not value the ability to do versus the ability to pass theoretical tests?

      Not saying that college or certifications are not good.

      But we are viewing a environment right this minute where our kids are incurring a huge amount of debt so that they can get a good paying job and at the same time we are watching our country send those jobs to another country or import temporary non immigrant workers to take their jobs here in our country.

      What do we say to them?

      Now that you owe 50,000 or 100,000, you must take a job at Walmart greeting customers even though you will never make enough to pay that debt back and don’t whine about it because this way you will have a job.


  4. Thank you!, Professor Matloff.

    I apologize for a long post and certainly am ensuring it doesn’t sound like a rant.
    As a consultant who codes; every week, I fly to my engagement at some bank, wealth management firm, insurance company, retailer, university, or a utility. And not once in my last 4 years have I seen an IT department that wasn’t choking with H1-B visa holders.

    My story:

    I immigrated to Canada at the age of 13. I went to a well known CS/Math school in Ontario; worked in the Toronto area for 8 years and came to the US in 2011 on a TN visa with a Big 4 consulting firm that is in the business of displacing Americans through the L1-A and L1-B programs.

    First what is your opinion of the TN work permit? And will you please cover the L1 more deeply in your blog?

    Next, while I do believe I am probably taking a job from an American, I do have special skills in the latest big data technologies and I work with many modern languages and platforms. I am paid well – in the 140-150k range. Please understand that I am not trying to be boastful.

    My father has been laid of 3 times in the past 18 months in Canada because he’s an older man in the trades. And employers are not kind when you cross 50. If only.

    When I go to my weekly trips, I stay in downtown hotels. I have young black men, old white men and women come up to me – begging for money, food or a ride. It hits me realizing that maybe one of them probably had the potential for IT work. I am trying to immigrate on a TN and live with the fear and anxiety of filing an I-485 down the line.

    The H1-B shops where I end up have lots of Indian asians and South indians who prefer to speak their native dialect which I don’t understand. I end up attending calls offshore in the wee hours of the night. I end up getting e-mails with a .java files attached to pore over. And often have to deal with horrific SQL statements with 11 nested select clauses. These ‘consultants’ are brought in usually by an offshoring partner like Tata, Infosys, Cognizant or HCL.

    I am further humiliated by some of my temporary colleagues because I too am Indian but over time have assimilated and don’t do a good job of mingling, talking about their politics, food, movies in their native tongue (because I don’t understand it) and they don’t seem to like that.

    The rampant abuse of this visa has led to my American and Canadian colleagues being let go from their jobs. I was threatened with firing in New Jersey in 2013 because I was a costly employee. I had to quit within 7 days because I didn’t want to be in the country illegally.
    I fear that as I approach my mid-thirties I’ll have to take up a trade like plumbing, carpentry or even flying just to be employable. Having said that, I have great love, admiration and gratitude for this country.

    The H1-B visa in the US has its equivalents in Canada. I am not immune to unfair competition there. If I was a dentist, not only would a state association protect their oligarchy , it would fight anti-trust laws and allow me to collude with other dentists and demand that I charge a minimum price for listed services.

    Aside from finding a job with some university or local government, I don’t think I can survive this onslaught of cheap, low quality labor on my profession. Eventually I’ll be seen as an old man who doesn’t fit in and has too much experience to be useful. Young Indian males on visas can’t get pregnant, work long hours, fraternize well, and can’t quit.
    I highly admire the work you’ve done and I wish I could be a part of it.

    Lastly, while your concerns are spot on and well founded, the problem isn’t limited to IT, pharmacy or MBA. Student visas – OPT/CPT are heavily abused by every corner in our working society. My younger sibling can’t find work but in her geological engineering program half the students were on a visa and all received work permits.

    Universities are hooked on foreign student dollars like a crack addict. Faculty and administration are partly to blame for this.


    • Very interesting comments.

      A lot of people need to be educated by cases such as yours — ethnic Indian, but still out of place, due to age, dialect and cultural sensibilities. One hears a lot of comments about how the Indians stick together (esp. from the Chinese, who don’t), but it’s not that simple at all.

      I don’t know much about TN. I’ve heard that employers actually don’t like it for some reason, maybe because it has to be renewed every year.

      I agree with you regarding the universities. Sigh…


  5. @maurice

    You need to start telling your stories at Keep America At Work.
    Art and myself used to do the type of work you (data guys and road warriors) are doing and we can’t buy an interview anymore.

    Kumar is getting in his 40’s and he is finding that it is getting harder for him to find work even though he came here on a H-1B.

    The guy I call “Paul Revere” has a pretty good background, is from India, is an American citizen and currently working in some warehouse for 9 bucks an hour.

    All of us have been where you are (I too made 140,000 as a consultant in 2002).

    All of us have a common enemy which is (a) companies sending jobs offshore which decreases the jobs available and (b) companies importing temporary non immigrant visa holders and paying them substantially less which also decreases the jobs available and hurts the American economy for many reasons.

    From all of my studies, people come here for the jobs and opportunity that does not exist in their country and I get that so I don’t fight them.

    I fight those that send our jobs to other countries and those vultures of india that prey on the people of india and americans with nothing but greed guiding them.


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