Another Job Ad Seeking OPTs

In my last post, I noted a job ad (spotted by an alert reader of this blog), apparently for a position as an insurance agent, in which the employer was encouraging workers on the OPT portion of the foreign student visa to apply. My main point was that, for all the hoopla we are seeing about the Infosyses’ use of the H-1B work visa, any punitive measure will simply result in the Infosyses’ former clients then turning to hiring OPTs. Now the same alert reader reports another ad seeking OPTs, announced through the same employment service.

This ad is much more explicit about hiring OPTs:

About American Technology Consulting LLCH1B sponsorship for OPT candidates: 
We have sponsored many H1B’s for candidates on F1 Visa and have been consistent in receiving approvals of visas even though the quota for visas have been running out really quickly in the last few years. Our immigration team is top notch with a proven track record of consistency with approvals on applications for OPT candidates.

OPT Candidates looking for Training & Placement: We are also providing training for candidates with an interest to pursue a career in the IT field. We specialize in Business Analyst and Quality Analyst training and have placed a lot of candidates in this position. We are very interested in talking to candidates who need help. We have many positions currently open and would be excited to talk to you further to see if you would be a fit for the same.

This is for IT jobs, no prior background required:

Preferred Skills: 
Proven ability to work independently and as a team member.

Good communication (written and oral) and interpersonal skills.

Good organizational, multi-tasking, and time-management skills.
OPT/ CPT students and willing to relocate anywhere in the USA
Encourage an atmosphere of trust, openness and communication and an attitude based on working together and shared objectives.

The only concrete “qualification” seems to be being on OPT/CPT. So, just about any foreign student should qualify. OPT does require that the work be in the student’s field, but this could include lots of fields, certainly at least Business.

I’ve emphasized over the years that a major reason why H-1B and related programs are so attractive to employers is that it widens their pool of YOUNG job candidates, youth being important because of lower wage and benefits costs. This ad is titled “Quality Analyst – recent graduates preferred!”, and generously adds that “2015 graduates also can apply.”

In reply to a reader comment on my last post, I speculated that the judge in the case currently pending against the Bush/Obama OPT extension may be reluctant to cause “disruption” for OPT workers and their employers by making good on her promise to vacate the extension (i.e. dismantle it) if the government doesn’t meet her conditions by February 12. One reader took that to mean that I myself would consider such an event an unacceptable disruption. On the contrary, I told him today that if the OPTs are indeed sent home, he should immediately re-apply for a position he had been rejected for, in a group that apparently hires lots of OPTs from China.

In other words, OPT matters — a LOT. The Cruz/Sessions bill is the only one to do away with OPT. The bill is lying dormant for now, but in the event that the judge does vacate the extension, OPT is sure to become an urgent, priority issue in Congress — with lots of politicians lining up to codify OPT (extension and all) into actual law, in contrast to its current status as administrative action. That would at least give the Cruz/Sessions bill more attention.

Another $12/Hour Story — with an OPT Twist

Over the years, critics of H-1B have spotted numerous cases of jobs ads that explicitly encourage applications from foreign workers seeking an H-1B visa, at absurdly low wages. But this one is far more informative than most.

In case the ad disappears soon, the title is

Team Member OPT, H1B Visa welcome

State Farm Agency Burlingame, CA
$12 an hour

Why is this ad different from all other H-1B-mentioning job ads? The answer is that this one also mentions OPT, which I will comment on below. But first, what kind of job is this?

The job requirements are vague, to say the least.  The first item is

  • Ability to learn and apply product, industry and market knowledge to make professional recommendations to prospects and policyholders and to satisfy insurance licensing requirements.

Given that the employer is described as a State Farm “agency” rather than State Farm itself, this ad appears to be aimed at hiring a plain old insurance agent.

There seem to be about a dozen State Farm agencies in Burlingame, a mid-Peninsula city in the San Francisco Bay Area, right next to the airport. It and nearby cities are greatly favored by immigrants from Hong Kong, and about half of the listed State Farm proprietors listed indeed have Cantonese-spelled surnames.

The possibility suggests itself that rather than being motivated by savings in wages (though always a draw, of course), the employer here simply wants to hire his nephew, or his girlfriend or some such situation. This does occur.

If that is the case here, of course, it would be fraud, at least for H-1B. But my understanding is that it would not be fraudulent for OPT.

But my point goes beyond that. I’ve explained before that if Congress enacts legislation that centers on the “Infosyses,” such as the Durbin-Grassley bill, the current Infosyses clients can simply hire OPTs. So, once again, OPT, currently under litigation, is key.

David Frum Speaks the Obvious — Aimed at Those for Whom It’s Not

Another great piece by David Frum of The Atlantic. I am presuming that he is aiming his remarks at what he calls the “wine track” crowd, upper-middle class professionals. (James Carville, Bill Clinton’s staffer, said it much better, referring to them as the “wine-sippin’, Volvo-drivin’, NPR-listenin’ crowd.”) Frum is describing obvious facts to a group for whom it is not obvious at all; the correct word for that group is “oblivious,” not “obvious.”

Of course, I’m biased, because, as some of you may have noticed, a lot of what Frum says is similar to the views I myself have long expressed. In my post about a previous piece of Frum’s, I could hardly contain my glee at seeing someone at the august, highly Establishment Atlantic (of which, admittedly, I am a reader) dare ridicule the economists, who are great number crunchers but have no idea what the numbers mean, and who in many cases are (consciously or not) just trying to confirm their preconceptions.

In short, the “wine track” people are badly in need of education as to why Trump has such fervent supporters (even if many of them probably wince at with at least some of his remarks).

I do have a number of comments, though. Since I am a Democrat and Frum’s piece is aimed largely (though not exclusively) at the Republicans, I may be a poor one to criticize, but I believe that Frum should have gone a little further in some of his points.

For example, why no mention of Grover Norquist? Frum is correct, I believe, that the Tea Party began as a “No one cares about us in the mainstream” movement, but it was hijacked by Norquist and his money into an anti-tax thing.

Frum suggests, correctly, that many in the Tea Party crowd may be just as worried about their Social Security funding as any mainstream Democrat, but he draws the line at Obamacare. I’m much less sure of that, because many Tea Partiers will find that they need it, as they find that it becomes harder for them and their grown children to obtain decent-paying work. If a Republican wins the White House in November, he/she will find it much more difficult than they thought to dismantel the program.

But in a different sense, Obamacare does epitomize the problem. When he took office and started pushing for health care reform, Obama never bothered to explain to the nation why it was needed. In my opinion, it was indeed needed — the present employment-based system is unsustainable in the long run, I think. But most people were pretty happy with their present health care, and Obama should have explained it to them. (He also should have been MUCH more on top of its implementation, which has been disastrous.) Obama basically treated the populace as children, people who didn’t need to know why health care reform was imperative.

Obamacare also ties in to the recurring theme in Frum’s piece of immigration. It was never mentioned that a substantial number of the uninsured were immigrants; that’s why the business lobby is so strongly pro-immigration, desiring cheap and benefit-free labor.

And immigration of course is the other issue that has never been properly sold to the population. I believe most Americans really do want to “Welcome the stranger” (a biblical phrase that is one of the immigration lobby’s favorite talking points), but they do want to feel that they have been part of the policy-making process. Being asked to “Press 1 for English” by a phone recording dramatizes the point that they have not been consulted.

It wouldn’t hard to write policy that, for example, would ensure that most legal immigrants would know at least rudimentary English BEFORE they immigrate. (I’ve made such proposals, actually.) And in setting immigration policy, its effects on other aspects would be carefully considered and discussed openly with the nation. Instead, what we get is a lot of slick pro-immigration PR, and a president who sets his policy on the basis of a single pro-immigration economist.

Another point that Frum neglected to develop is the impact of immigration on blacks and Latinos. Historically, the Democrats have been the champions for poor African-Americans, only to abandon them in favor of the Latinos, particular the Latinos that Jay Leno cleverly termed “undocumented Democrats.” Immigration does hit our most vulnerable people especially hard, the poor and less-educated. Yet there is only one major presidential candidate today who has said so. Is it Clinton?, you ask. Surely you’re joking. Sanders?  Sadly, no. It’s…yes, Donald Trump.

It speaks volumes that Bernie doesn’t feel free to say what Trump said, that immigration has been harmful to low-skilled blacks and Latinos. And it speaks volumes that so many Latinos have been led (by Univision, the Hispanic activists and so on) to think that an expansive immigration policy is in their interests. And for that matter, it’s very telling that the Republicans are bashing Obamacare so fiercely when it actually has its genesis in a conservative think tank (the Heritage Foundation) and was first implemented, to great approbation, by a Republican governor in Massachusetts (Mitt Romney). All of these epitomize the bypassing of the American public in how the nation is run.

I have my own problems with El Donaldo. But those who quickly dismiss him have no clue as to what’s going on in the real world.

 

Confusion in Job Titles Further Muddies the Waters

A reader comment responding to my last posting, “Shortage of Database Engineers?”, raises the question of what constitutes such a job title. Indeed, there is general confusion on job titles in the computer-related fields, a situation keenly exploited by HR departments and immigration lawyers with regard to the H-1B work visa and employment-based green cards. I’m told that this is the reason the recently-introduced H-1B/OPT reform bill by Senators Cruz and Sessions simply replaces the current prevailing wage rules, which are tied to occupation, by a flat $110,000 wage floor.

A recent Computerworld article on BLS job growth projections also illustrates such confusion. It notes that BLS projects a yearly increase of about 1.5% in the number of Software Developers but a 0.8% annual decrease for Programmers. The article then “explains,”

Programmers are focused on coding and implementing requirements, and that’s why they may be more susceptible to offshoring, in contrast to software developers who may be more engaged with the business, analyzing needs and collaborating with multiple parties.

Many readers of this blog are scratching their heads at this, wondering, “Wait a minute! Programmer is just another name for Software Developer!” And of course, they’re absolutely right. So why does BLS have two different categories for the same job? And where in the world did BLS get  that absurd distinction between the two job titles?

The answer is historical, and to some degree geographical. Before, say, the early 1980s, most people writing software in Silicon Valley had Programmer titles. Some others had Electrical Engineer titles, NOT because their code dealt with EE but simply because they had EE degrees. Eventually the employers of EEs changed job titles to the more accurate Software Engineer. The non-EE firms soon followed, as the title sounded fancier than Programmer.

The above BLS “distinction” also stems from history, with “coding” referring to the old days in which a higher-level person, often with a System Analyst title, would basically write a detailed outline of the program, which the Programmer would convert to actual code, hence the term coding. But this practice went out decades ago, so the BLS definition is antiquated, to put it mildly.

My point is this: People who are called Software Engineers in Silicon Valley today would have been called Programmers back in the early 80s FOR THE SAME WORK. In other words, the Programmer title is archaic, and thus the BLS projection of decline is nothing new; there has been a steady decline in the category for years. (By the way, the BLS changed its own phrasing from Software Engineer to Software Developer a few years ago.)

To add to the confusion, wages for Programmers tend to be somewhat lower than those of Software Engineers. Though this would seem to justify BLS’s distinction, the wage differential is NOT due to difference in depth of the work, but rather due to industry sector and geography. Today, people with Programmer titles tend to work for banks and insurance companies, who have lower pay scales in general, or to work in regions lacking much in the way of the software vendor sector that uses the Software Engineer title.

Here is another point in the article that adds to the confusion. (No fault of the author, of course, who is only relying on the BLS and the quoted researchers.) In addressing the question of whether there is an IT labor shortage, the author writes,

About 36% of the people who work in IT do not have four-year college degrees, and of those who do, only 38% have a computer science or math degree, according to an Economic Policy Institute paper by Hal Salzman, a Rutgers University public policy professor, Daniel Kuehn, an adjunct economics professor at American University, and B. Lindsay Lowell, the director of policy studies at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University.

The cited researchers are of course mainly correct: One does not need a computer science degree, or for that matter any degree at all, in order to do good work in this field. But the quote is very misleading in including the number of math degrees; the vast majority of people who write software don’t use any more math than you do in filling out your income tax return. In other words, even that 38% figure is too high.

For details, see my University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform paper.

Shortage of Database Engineers?

This Workforce Magazine article is typical of the “STEM shortage shouting” genre: There is an acute STEM labor shortage; employers are desperate to hire, but the only way to do so is to poach from another firm; workers are inundated with job offers; long-term solutions include getting more women and minorities into the field, often via novel educational vehicles, but the short-term solution is H-1B. I’ve seen hundreds of such articles since the industry lobbyists made their first big push for expanding the visa program in 1997.

The following excerpt is very telling:

“If you’re looking for a database engineer on job boards, good luck,” Siegel said. “A database engineer in San Francisco is courted by recruiters every single day. That person will never look for a job again for the rest of their career, jobs will go to them. There’s too much interest.”

I asked a database engineer whom I highly respect to comment, anonymously. He writes

Out of the four (including me) database professionals I know, exactly none has received, over the last three years, an offer for permanent work at a higher salary than before. We all get absurd low-ball offers all day long, but so what.

Once again, this goes back to comments Wharton’s Peter Cappelli has made repeatedly, that a so-called “shortage” is often actually a refusal among many employers to pay market price.

Cruz/Sessions H-1B/OPT Bill

Judging from the reader discussion sparked by my post on the H-1B/OPT reform bill by Senators Cruz and Sessions, I’ll assume here the bill needs no introduction.

A reader pointed out that the bill appears to have been tabled, but I hope it may serve as a marker for future legislation, and it brings up issues that would be helpful to discuss, which I will do here, especially concerning foreign students, the favored H-1B group of the “Intels” (mainstream tech firms, as opposed to the “Infosyses,” the rent-a-programmer firms).

In the discussion in my last post, a foreign student was quite upset about the bill’s provision to dismantle the Optional Practical Training part of the F-1 foreign student visa. He views OPT as absolutely essential, as it is currently used as an end-run around the yearly cap on H-1B visas, and sees the canceling of the OPT program to be among the most objectionable aspects of the bill. But that misses the point: If H-1B were truly reformed, as this bill would do, the cap would never be hit in the first place, since employers could no longer use H-1B and green cards for cheap, immobile labor — i.e. OPT as an end-run around the cap wouldn’t be needed.

Another provision that has led to discussion is the bill’s replacing the current prevailing wage requirement with a flat $110,000 wage floor. Some people have pointed out, rightly, that this does not take into account regional cost of living variations, nor variations in occupations. But a long-time critic of H-1B, Professor Ron Hira, explained the advantage of having a uniform wage floor (quoted here with his permission):

The $110k wage floor might not stamp out the abuse in the highest cost areas, but it is much more straightforward than wage rules that include: geographic location + occupation + skill level. The three variables allow a large opportunity to misclassify workers to underpay them.

Ron is an expert on the abuses of the Infosyses, but in fact the Intels do such things too. HP, for instance, recently invented a new job title in the industry, Associate Software Engineer, an absurdity similar in intent to the Junior Programmer title used by the Infosyses.

As to the “highest cost areas,” such as Silicon Valley, I argued in my previous post that (a) most of the abuse of H-1B is due to age, with the employers hiring new or recent foreign graduates (in the U.S. or abroad) instead of older (35+) Americans, and (b) even in Silicon Valley new grad salaries are nowhere near $110K. I checked with my own institution, most of whose grads end up in Silicon Valley, and found the mean salary (for those who have offers and report them, two important qualifiers) is about $79K in computer science at the bachelor’s level, with a premium of about $5000 for a master’s. I think that latter figure is a bit low, but still in the ballpark of the national NACE data. In other words, I believe that the bill would be highly effective even in Silicon Valley.

Kim Berry of the Programmers Guild, a strong opponent of the H-1B program, wrote on my blog that even he believes that the bill’s requirement that H-1Bs either have a PhD or 10+ of work experience is too strict. I called that provision of the bill “draconian” in my post, but also pointed out that it is a natural consequence of the industry lobbyists themselves emphasizing the PhD (“50% of U.S. university doctoral degrees in computer science go to foreign students!”). This part of the bill calls them out on that highly misleading claim, so if the industry objects now, it’s their own fault.

On the other hand, merely requiring a master’s degree isn’t the answer either. Rarely is a master’s of much direct value to an employer. (Indirectly, it gives them a “one-stop shopping center” for finding foreign students to hire.) Let’s keep in mind that Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison (founder and CEO of Oracle) and so on never even got their bachelor’s degree.

In other words having a graduate degree is not a necessary condition for outstanding talent, and it isn’t a sufficient one either. I am becoming increasingly concerned about the trend for universities to establish special programs in which in essence they “sell” a weak master’s, apparently aimed mainly at a foreign-student clientele, with a low bar for admission.

Today’s F-1 foreign student visa program is not the program that I have cherished and supported over the years. Seemingly eons ago, I actually wrote a letter to the California Legislative Analyst, urging that the legislature not place a limit on foreign students in UC graduate programs. Yet, look at what we see today. OPT’s true usage is a sad distortion of the intent implied in its name. OPT, H-1B and green card rules are a joke, written to facilitate employers giving hiring preference to foreign workers over U.S. citizens and permanent residents. We see an engineering dean declaring that foreign students are preferred, “because they will do anything to stay in the U.S.” We see a CSU campus declaring that in a particular semester, graduate admissions will consist ONLY of foreign students. We see tax-supported research money going disproportionately going to foreign student tuition. The influx of foreign students has suppressed PhD salary growth, and thus caused an exit of the domestic students from doctoral programs, as forecast back in 1989 in an NSF report, and has been since quantified in research by George Borjas.

And such research greatly underestimates the impact, I believe. Much more important than adverse impacts on wages is the negative effects on employability; many Americans involuntarily leave STEM because they have difficulty finding work in the field. Policies designed to attract foreign students tend to disproportionally attract weaker ones; on average, the quality of foreign CS grad students is lower than that of their American peers, so the displacement has grave negative implications for the nation’s ability to keep its lead in STEM.

As always, I strongly support rolling out the immigration red carpet for the world’s “best and brightest,” but this is not the way things mostly work today. Indeed, we see mediocre workers win the H-1B lottery while truly talented ones come up empty-handed. The system is urgently in need of true reform.

 

 

Assimilation

For a long time in the U.S., the discussion on immigration policy — how many, who? — has presumed that immigrants, or at least their children, assimilate into American society. I myself made that argument in my first public statement on immigration long ago, in a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal about East Asian immigrants, written in response to comments made by Peter Brimelow. And this of course has been the assumption about European immigrants as well.

With Donald Trump’s call for a moratorium on the admission of Muslim foreign nationals to the U.S. (“until we can figure out what the hell is going on”), the question of assimilation underlies the dialog. Yesterday the Journal ran a disturbing piece by a former jihadist, Maajid Nawaz, that pointed out that

Over the past few years, in survey after survey, attitudes in the U.K. have reflected a worrisome trend. A quarter of British Muslims sympathized with the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, according to a February poll by ComRes for the BBC. A 2008 YouGov poll found that a third of Muslim students believe that killing for religion can be justified, and 40% want the introduction of Shariah as law in the U.K. Another poll, conducted in 2007 by Populus, reported that 36% of young British Muslims thought apostates should be “punished by death.”

Note carefully that Awaz strongly disagrees with Trump, and calls instead for educational programs (he himself runs one)  to nip extremism in the bud among young Muslims. Mark Krikorian also rejects Trump’s blanket approach, instead proposing that entrants to the U.S. be subjected to a “Do you share our political values?” test.

I believe, though, that many would object to such measures. Awaz’s idea borders on Big Brother-ism, and Mark’s is uncomfortably reminiscent of McCarthyism (and indeed he cites a policy of that era).

Putting aside the frightening events that have led to such discussion, how much should we expect immigrants — and crucially, their children — to assimilate? What do we even mean by that?

My parents, dad an immigrant and mom what I call a near-immigrant, spoke Yiddish between themselves. My brothers and I recognize only the odd phrase of the language here and there. But my daughter speaks Chinese to my wife and me. Are we assimilated? I think so, and that was the theme of my letter responding to Peter. Mark, by the way, sometimes discusses his retention of his Armenian roots, but I’ve never heard anyone suggest he is not assimilated.

And yet, it has become common among ethnic activists, many of them U.S. born, to resent calls for assimilation, preferring Canada’s “mosaic” or “salad bowl” philosophy to the U.S. tradition of the “melting pot.” Most Chinese immigrants still give their American children Western first names, but most Indians do not. There is a substantial outmarriage rate among the Chinese, and to some degree the Indians, but I would guess a much lower rate for the Muslims.

Should this matter? The Brimelow view is that lack of assimilation, and a truly multicultural society, can cause severe problems. Maybe so, but where do we draw the line? Being only quasi-assimilated myself 🙂 I don’t have answers. But I do wish to raise the question.