As NBC News reports,
The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center launched a new digital art exhibition Monday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the H-1B visa.
The themes are along the lines of the hard lives of H-1Bs and their spouses, the exploitation of the workers and so on.
I wish to emphasize that I think it is a very legitimate topic for the Smithsonian. Needless to say, though, the Institution is quite remiss in not telling the other side of the story — the U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been sad victims of the H-1B program, with effects ranging from reduced wages to highly stressful periods of unemployment to losing one’s house to forced abandonment of STEM careers to marital breakups and even to suicide.
If the Smithsonian had wanted to retain the Asian aspect, there are lots of Asian-Americans who have been hurt by the H-1B program. Well over half of my undergrad students, for instance, are Asian-Americans (not Asian foreign students). Thus there is no shortage of Asian-American victims of H-1B.
I’ve mentioned before my student from 20 years ago, “Jim.” Encouraged by his Chinese-immigrant parents, he worked hard in school, with a dream of becoming an engineer. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in EE and a Master’s in CS. He then joined a major tech firm and did so well that he was written up in the Wall Street Journal. Yet he was later caught up in a layoff, and got increasingly unstable jobs after that. Finally, he bit the bullet and left the field. He worked in non-technical contexts for some years, and is currently employed as a technician, well below his background and talents.
I get the impression that the curator of the exhibit has taken the current furor over H-1B as an attack on Asians/Asian-Americans, just as Michelle Malkin described. If so, the curator would have done well to consider stories like Jim’s. And he may be interested in a 2001 Techies.com article, which found that “U.S. tech workers don’t resent foreign workers themselves, the survey found, but are more likely to blame employers for any problems.”
But the curator’s motivation for hosting the exhibit may be more than ideological. With all the recent negative publicity about the Indian rent-a-programmer firms such as Infosys, some Indians/Indian-Americans may have had PR in mind, and contacted the curator with a suggestion.
This occurred some years ago when some graduates of the Indian Institute of Technology launched a campaign called Brand IIT. This resulted in an embarrassingly fawning piece on 60 Minutes on the IITs. The producer told one of my readers that the piece had been suggested by “an Indian doctor.” Ironically, the 60 Minutes segment featured Narayan Murthy — founder of Infosys. Around the same time, the San Jose Mercury News was running TV commercials featuring an Indian saying, “Without Indians, there would be no Silicon Valley.”
Obviously I disagree with that claim, but my point here is that there have been PR efforts before, and the new museum exhibit may be an example today. Indeed, the exhibit is worse, as it claims that Asian immigrants have been the source of the Valley’s innovation, an amazing statement in view of the frets by East Asian governments that their rote-memory educational systems destroy creativity.
I should note, though, that one panel in the online version of the exhibit states
The problem of an indentured servant is now new. But the H-1B visa puts a new twist on the matter.
This of course is a point I’ve emphasized: The “Intels” love the foreign-worker programs (H-1B plus green card sponsorship), because they render the worker immobile, something of immense value to the company, even more important than saving on wages.
By the way, the curator, Konrad Ng, is Pres. Obama’s brother-in-law.
Again, I don’t fault the Smithsonian for hosting this exhibit. But in the title, did they really have to say that they are “celebrating” the H-1B program?