One of the more obscure features of the recently-announced Durbin-Grassley bill on H-1B/L-1 visa reform is to mandate better data collection on the visa holders, particularly on gender. We really need the gender data, supporters say.
Really? I’m concerned about gender discrimination in the tech industry, but I’d argue that there is far more pressing data that ought to be collected — say, counts of Americans who apply for jobs that ultimately are filled by H-1Bs.
Collect data on gender of H-1Bs — how Politically Correct! Unfortunately, there is no concern for age discrimination, arguably a much more troubling problem, in that:
- It affects both genders (women are actually worse victims than men, I believe).
- Age discrimination in tech has been shown in a number of studies, whereas there is merely speculation in the gender case.
- Most important, the connection between H-1B and age is quite clear.
Concerning this last bullet: Young workers are cheaper, and the vast majority of H-1Bs are young (there IS data on that). Unless you believe that H-1Bs are hired to remedy labor shortages or because they are especially talented (the data pretty clearly have disproven both notions), the age/H-1B connection is quite clear.
In all the commotion over the SCE and Disney cases, in which Americans were replaced by cheaper, foreign workers, one never hears about WHY the foreign workers were cheaper. Was it because those employers, and their Indian bodyshop agents, were breaking the law? No; the government investigations found nothing illegal. No, the real reason those foreign workers were cheap is that they were YOUNG.
And this is hardly news. At a time when suddenly a lot of folks are discovering that the numbers of women in tech are low (and dwindling), no one seems to realize that the problems of older tech workers were confirmed back in 2001, in a congressionally-commissioned report. Yet the age issue, which I’ve been pressing since the last millenium, just doesn’t seem to get any traction. But gender! Now that’s urgent, it seems we are being told.
So, how did that gender provision get into the bill? I’ve never heard Durbin or Grassley bring up the matter in the past. The likely answer is IEEE-USA, whose Paul Donnelly has been working with D/G, I hear.
Dr. Karen Panetta (daughter of Leon), a Tufts EE professor and IEEE-USA official, has been beating the drums about the lack of gender diversity among the H-1Bs, especially among the Infosyses, a favorite whipping boy of IEEE-USA and the major focus of the D/G bill. But if you actually run the numbers with her data, the bodyshops actually come out looking pretty good.
In fact, my own speculation has been that among the H-1Bs in general, the gender balance is actually better than it is for the general populations in the affected professions.
In fairness to D/G, I should note that the main part of the bill that I praised — in a sea of criticism — is the provision to eliminate the breakdown of H-1B prevailing wage law by experience level (read age). At least I hope that that is what the provision means, as it is a little vague. As I mentioned, this aspect was the first to be jettisoned in earlier D/G bills, and will almost certainly not survive if the bill moves forward, but at least it does address the age issue.
Yes, gender discrimination is a concern, but in this case I say it’s a distraction from the primary issues.