Smithsonian Exhibit Glorifies H-1Bs

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 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?



10 thoughts on “Smithsonian Exhibit Glorifies H-1Bs

      • Good story.

        One thing I do not understand is why do you not want to build your company in your country?
        Could it be because the market is america?

        Your country needs people like you.
        And americans need jobs in America as well.

        I would support anybody from any country IF we were creating enough jobs for everybody.

        Problem is, America isn’t doing their part and neither is India which is leaving Americans and the people of India with no jobs, opportunity, or future.

        So I fight with what I have available to me which is a keyboard.


        • this was published 4 years ago. The issue is about Grren card backlogs. While people from all the over world except India and China can get their GC in an year or less we have to wait for decades is in reasonable. About the market, Indian market is big, but what I am working on is fixing the broken healthcare system in the USA. Although so much advanced healthcare costs are so high because of lack of education and many other things here in USA. We are established company now in USA and are working towards a product that is going to help millions of people here and around the world on healthcare. Long gone are the days of country borders, systems built in any country are helping people everywhere. my company employees all Americans and developers in short !!!


          • I’m not sure I understand everything you said here. Please proofread before posting.

            Believe it or not, there are good arguments to be made on both sides of the per-country cap for green cards issue.


  1. This is outrageous. First of all, the Smithsonian “virtual exhibit” links to a Google web site. In other words, the Smithsonian is pimping for Google. Second, there is a twitter feed about this #myh1bstory. Post a comment there. There are an endless number of whining posts about H-1Bs complaining about their serf status. I remembered Kevin Flanagan in a tweet.


  2. Come on Norm – from the intro to the Smithsonian exhibit:

    “H-1B is of particular relevance to immigrants from India. Many were trained in technical schools that opened throughout India following its Independence in 1947. Over the past 25 years, several generations of young scientists and engineers from all over Asia have come to be part of a “New America” and shape our cultures of innovation and entrepreneurship. Today, approximately one third of H-1B visas annually are issued to South Asian workers. For many, the H-1B visa is more than a piece of paper affixed in a passport. It determines so much of life in America and the opportunity to become American.”

    Immigrants? Opportunity to become an American? Didn’t anybody tell the Smithsonian that the H-1B is a non-immigrant visa ?!!
    This is disgraceful and blatant political propaganda coming from this taxpayer supported organization.
    Maybe it is a legitimate topic for political and academic discussion and debate, but it is not an appropriate topic as presented for a “non-partisan” taxpayer supported cultural institution focused on U.S. History. This is not presented as “free speech artistic expression” of the authors, but an historical anniversary celebration of the “generations of young scientists and engineers” that “have come to be part of a “New America””. Brave New World indeed….(more like 1984).


    • H-1B is officially a “dual intent” visa, meaning that although it is a nonimmigrant work visa, the holder’s employer can be simultaneously sponsoring the worker for immigration.

      Most “Intels” sponsor for a green card, while most “Infosyses” do not. Some people (NOT ME) think that makes the Intels’ use of H-1B more legitimate.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This by no means is a celebration. If they are asking for stories about someone that is ‘celebrating’ their H-1 and would like to share their story, they’d literally find none unless those (fabricated/cotton-candied) stories come from a pro-H1 hike lobby group like

    Twitter tells a completely different story of how these H1s are NOT celebrating their story.. #MyH1BStory

    We have seen this movie several times in the past. It will again highlight the stories proposed by the PR machinery of whosoever wants to see H-1 quota hiked (likes of cough cough).


  4. I will be calling Sen Sessions about this tomorrow. If he and his staff are unaware of this, they need to know. I will also call Grassley, Durbin, Brown, and Sanders. This kind of ridiculous elevation of the H-1Bs cannot be allowed to stand without reasonable balance.


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