Followup on the Smithsonian

I made a post here the other day about an online exhibit at the Smithsonian, describing the lives of South Asians involved with the H-1B visa program. Computerworld has now run a piece on the exhibit as well. I have a few more comments, including one later that some of your may find very troubling.

But first I want to invoke Freud’s famous remark, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” 🙂 With an emotional issue like H-1B, it’s easy to let one’s imagination run wild, and I think that is true here for the Smithsonian incident.

The day I posted about the exhibit, an academic I know wrote to me, calling my attention to the last panel of the exhibit, which this academic felt was suspicious, with ominous-sounding phrasing, “The exhibit featured here may in some cases have been created by an independent third party…” But really, folks, this phrasing has all the earmarks of a boilerplate legal disclaimer, no sinister plots.

Now the Computerworld article quotes Professor Ron Hira, who as many of you know is a prominent critic of the H-1B program:

The challenge is in the framing of the exhibit, said Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University and a longtime critic of the temporary work visa program. “Will it become a way to conflate H-1Bs with green cards?” he asked.

A green card is issued for permanent residency.

“If so, and my guess is it will turn out that way, then the Smithsonian is playing in the political realm by distorting how the H-1B program is used by South Asians,” said Hira. “The majority are now used for temporary labor mobility only.”

I’ve never understood the argument that green card sponsorship somehow makes the Intels more responsible in use of foreign worker programs, while the “evil” Infosyses rarely use the green card process. On the contrary, the Intels are arguably worse, because they use green card sponsorship as a way to keep the foreign worker immobile during the many-year process.

At any rate, I don’t think there is a nefarious scheme afoot at the Smithsonian. Ron is certainly correct that the Smithsonian improperly conflated H-1B with green cards, and by the way, they also conflated Asians with Asian-Americans. But I don’t think it’s deliberate. My experience with ethnic activists, in this case the artists in the exhibit and its curator, is that they don’t put so much emphasis on technically precise language as for example, a mathematician like me does. And the fact is that most employment-based green card sponsorees from India have begun work as H-1Bs. So, not so far off, really.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m letting the Smithsonian off the hook, because guess what! — the Smithsonian hires H-1Bs too. And the biggest job category is not something like, say Ichthyologists, but in fact is Computer and Information Specialists.  IT people! Not a lot them hired, but this certainly sounds fishy (if you don’t mind the pun).

Some of you must be wondering how a government agency can hire an H-1B. I don’t know the details, but I’ve been told it’s common, including on the state level. I remember years ago, an immigration attorney told me he had represented the California state government in hiring an HP 3000 programmer, for a machine popular at the time.

I don’t think the foreign workers were hired to save on wages directly, in the sense of underpayment. A more likely reason is that they had found that Americans weren’t sticking around long at low government wages, and the Smithsonian wanted immobile workers, just like the Intels do. If so, that means they probably sponsor these foreign workers for green cards, again showing that such sponsorship doesn’t imply the employer is acting responsibly.

Another possibllity is that the Smithsonian wanted to hire programmers for localization, meaning in this case software that can handle English and Chinese, or English and Spanish and so on. But there are tons of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have that skill.

This reminds of the time in 2008 when the Dallas Morning News sponsored a bilingual sports photographer for a green card. A reporter for the paper told me this during her interview of me, and she laughed out loud at the fact that the publication was claiming it couldn’t find Spanish-speaking American photographers — in Dallas, not Des Moines. (Today you could probably find them even in Des Moines.) See also related material in a 2011 e-newletter posting of mine.

Note again that the Morning News sponsored the foreign photographer for a green card. Does that make it less of an abuse? That reporter sure didn’t think so; she was laughing at the absurdity of it, but she was not pleased.

Speaking of wrong conflations: Don’t equate green card sponsorship with ethics.



11 thoughts on “Followup on the Smithsonian

  1. As many of you know, I’ve been trying to get my foot in the door with the Veterans Affairs simply because there is a VA hospital 20 miles from me which means I could “buy back” my military time, get decent benefits and if I live long enough, maybe even get some type of pension.

    And I’m even willing to start out at the bottom in house keeping or food service and they’ve even gave me two tentative job offers which I have passed everything (physical, TB shot, Finger Prints, etc) but so far they have never brought me onboard and somebody told me the other day that it is because I have been unemployed so much since 2003.

    Why do I bring this up?

    Because I did NOT (a) send my job to another country or (b) import temporary workers on temporary NON IMMIGRANT visas to take my job here at home.

    Needless to say I’ve also been trying to get software jobs at their austin tx location as I’ve been told they have a lot of them.

    And I have never even gotten to first base even though I’ve worn every hat in software.

    Imagine my surprise when I found out, like the Smithsonian in Mr. Matloff’s example, they hire H-1B’s INSTEAD of Navy Veterans AND they allow them to work from communist china as the following picture and document will show.

    But first a question, if they are willing to hire H-1B in our federal and state government, what makes us think they will even support us in our legislative branch at the state and federal level?

    Click to access VAOIG-13-01730-159.pdf

    The first link is the picture.
    The second link is the full document

    The next link shows the details of my two Tentative Job Offers from the VA.

    THIS is why I want to get people to put up the money so that we can fund the advertisements.

    We NEED to shine very bright spotlights on and federal and state agency that uses taxpayer money that was paid in to take care of Americans and America.

    It can cost as much as $75,000 for one ad in the wall street journal and that is a small one for one day only.

    Dig deep folks.
    Let’s nip this in the bud before our children will have no jobs in America at all.

    We can win this war if we are United.

    It really is that simple.


    • Here in the D.C. area I am also getting wind that former H1-B’s staff the DOD contractors programming teams. This is a good point since almost every H1-B I’ve worked with, and I’ve worked with hundreds ,wants to land a steady job with the U.S. government. This exposes a lie that they are here to start companies and reveals the government is replacing the native born with obedient sheep.


  2. “Some of you must be wondering how a government agency can hire an H-1B. I don’t know the details, but I’ve been told it’s common, including on the state level.”

    I’m puzzled by this comment since there is NO cap on the number of H-1Bs that a government or non-profit research organization can hire, and the Smithsonian can undoubtedly qualify as a research organization.
    Or did you interpret research in a much narrower sense than the immigration attorneys?


      • So what we have is a situation where even gov agencies have bought the PR propaganda, and given incentives to use H-1Bs and no disincentives, they do so. The “Intel and Infosys special interests” have been able to frame the debate, and the media have not done their jobs to present facts, so no counter arguments and evidence is presented. Even gov agencies think hiring H-1Bs is harmless. Hopefully this new book will help. It’s already in the libraries, and Amazon of course.


      • Many states have unemployment systems which have been outsourced to the H-1b employers. So you have an organization which keeps track of unemployed people which starts off by making people unemployed. It’s wrong, period.


  3. Is anyone of the opinion, even though it would seem surreptitiously conspired that maybe now that the severe backlog has formed among Indians, it is the one nationality a lot of employers prefer because of the time required for a worker to get a green card should be one sponsored for him/her.

    Some indian workers I know did say they feel like they had been held up for promotions, salary raises, and better opportunities because of the GC backlog.


  4. I used to think that, but lately I am thinking it is because of two things:
    1. Many of our managers that now do the selecting are of Indian descent.
    2. Many of our subcontracting firms that bid on software projects and supply “bodies” are of indian descent.

    This is the primary reason why Americans can no longer get hired in my opinion simply because we are not considered as a good fit in this environment.


    • @vbierschwale, while your argument holds true partially (and is applicable *typically* to the infosyses), there is a vast majority of the intels (that @Maurice refers to) that have non-asians/caucasians hiring folks from backlogged countries just because of them being in a “backlog” – for several decades – No promotions/no hikes etc.

      This ties back to Mr.Matloff’s theme:

      1) That infosyses are the bad apples – when in fact, intels are much worse in a way since they are less spoken of in the media/everywhere

      2) Employing backlogged folks and put them in decades long wait – This need not be a ‘replacement’ model ie., the disney-like layoff/replacing with contractors etc, but fosters the “jobs denied to americans” model.


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