Chinese Foreign Students at Rice Become Activists Supporting OPT

Interesting piece in the student newspaper at Rice University, regarding an organized effort by Chinese international students there in support of the OPT extension.

Rice is one of my favorites. It’s got a beautiful campus, and has first-rate departments in my two fields, Computer Science and Statistics. It also is one of the more selective schools at the undergraduate level in the U.S.; most immigrant Tiger Moms probably haven’t heard of it, but it offers outstanding educational opportunities.

One analyst who has been following the OPT case closely told me on November 12 that “Suddenly today, about 8000 comments showed up on the OPT rule [signature Web page]. Nearly all I have scanned support it and nearly all have Chinese names.” This jibes with the Rice newspaper article, though of course it’s no surprise. It does again raise the question of how much weight, if any, DHS and the judge in the case should give signatures of noncitizens.

Ron Hira and others have pointed out that the OPT extension’s ostensible rationale to give foreign students practical training to complement their formal studies makes no sense. These students typically have graduate degrees of a professional nature such as CS, so their studies are already practice-oriented, and in any case THREE YEARS of internship is just plain silly.

Thus it is to the credit of Baker, the Office of International Students and Scholars Executive Director quoted in the article, that she makes no pretense that these students need more training. She states the real reason, which is that the students use OPT as an end-run around the H-1B cap. (Even DHS has admitted this is the real reason for the proposed extension.)

But Baker also claims something more (here and below, bold emphasis added):

“From the student perspective, it would be terrible because there would be so many students who are assuming they can stay longer, and they can’t,” Baker said. “And it’s horrible for the companies because the companies are depending on these students. They hire them because they are the best people for that field.

Well, actually often they hire them for a very different reason — to obtain immobile workers. This is viewed by employers as a huge benefit, and is pitched as such by immigration lawyers. Ms. Baker should go to the Web page of David Swaim, who designed Texas Instruments’ immigration policy, and now runs his own shop. His flashy slide show explains to those employers who don’t already know the secret about the foreign students (who hold F-1 visas):

Most [American] college graduates leave in less than two years. F-1 students who want permanent residence must stay seven to twelve years…In most cases the employee is required to wait under an extensive quota system which can be anywhere from five to ten years, depending on the position and the employee’s place of birth. It is this step in the process which allows the employer to maximize the retention advantages of hiring international students…[Concerning the cost of green card sponsorship:] Since the legal system requires the international employee to keep the same employment for seven to twelve years, the ‘cost’ [the lawyer says $8,000] of that employee should be viewed in the greater context of the value that employee brings to the company…minor compared to the overall compensation.

But doesn’t Rice’s selectivity at the undergraduate level imply the same for graduate programs? Unfortunately not. It has become common for universities to offer special Master’s degrees, as revenue generators (no financial support is offered). Needless to say, universities are not going to be too picky in their admissions standards for such programs. I see that Rice has a CS program that appears to be in this category, and one for Statistics.

Rice is definitely a nice place for Chinese foreign students. The first time I went there (2012), I noticed that the Chinese food place in the student union listed its daily specials on a blackboard in Chinese — but not in English. A sure sign the food would be good, which it was.

The article quotes one of the Chinese students who organized the drive to sign the OPT comments page:

Computer science master’s student and recent alumni Maggie Tang (Lovett ’15) approached RCSSA early November in hopes that the organization, as a unified body, could call Chinese students to action. One of the main proponents of the campaign, Tang said the email was a response to a flood of negative, extremist and sometimes uninformed comments [by Americans]

I’m sure Tang means well, but I’d say she’s the one who is uninformed.

Excellent EPI Analysis of Proposed OPT Extension

Many of you are aware of the fact that the Optional Practical Training portion of the F-1 foreign student visa is the “sleeper” of the tech foreign worker programs, just as harmful to American workers as the H-1B work visa. Ostensibly a practical supplement for the foreign student to pick up before he/she returns home, it has become an end-run around the H-1B cap, and would play a key role in rendering useless most of the H-1B reforms that have been proposed.

This is especially true in light of the fact that the Obama administration wants to expand OPT, beyond even the expansion previously set by George W. Bush. A judge found that the first expansion had been done improperly, by not putting the matter out for public comment. Now the White House has incorporated its new expansion proposal into a document open for public comment to comply with the judge’s order.

Daniel Costa and Ron Hira have now posted their comments, representing EPI, on the matter. They’ve made available a summary as well, but I urge anyone with a serious interest in H-1B and related issues to read the document in full. It is a tour de force, cogently explaining the (extralegal) history of the program, its impacts so far, and the very serious adverse effects that would occur if it is approved. My hat is off to Daniel and Ron.

However, there is one glaring omission — the relation of OPT to age discrimination. As I’ve often noted, in STEM it is standard to hire young foreign workers instead of older (35+) Americans, because younger workers are cheaper. Making it even easier for employers to hire new-grad (and thus young) foreign students obviously would exacerbate the already-severe problem.

There are other points that should have been included in the EPI document. One is that, even though immobility of the foreign workers comes mainly from green card sponsorship, many foreign workers will be happy to be subservient to the boss merely in the HOPE that the latter will later sponsor the worker for a green card. I’ve mentioned before a quote from Computerworld, February 28, 2005:

Most of the students enrolled in the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s graduate program are foreign nationals. The Newark-based school has so far received 208 applications for admission in computer science master’s degree programs next year, with about 165 of those applications from foreign students, said Stephen Seideman, dean of the school’s college of computing science. The foreign students “will do everything they can to stay here,” he said.

That not only means that foreign students are generally willing to work for lower pay (a green card represents huge nonmonetary compensation for them), but also their resulting  “loyalty” to the employer is hugely attractive to the employer. All this puts American workers at even more of a disadvantage in applying for jobs.

Another important point: Once the employer hires an OPT, experience in that job automatically makes the foreign worker more qualified than American applicants a couple of years later, when the employer sponsors the worker for a green card and must show that no qualified Americans could be found for the position.

All in all, a really outstanding writeup. But will DHS listen? Remember, the “public” comment is not restricted to citizens, and there are apparently tens of thousands of comments from foreign students, e.g. whole blocks of comments from those with Chinese names (PRC pinyin spelling).

Noble and Ignoble Goals in Immigration Policy

I heard from quite a few people, both in my blog and in e-mail, in response to my recent posting on the Syrian refugees. I wrote,

I’ve been meaning to write here my thoughts on the recent actions by some state governors and the U.S. House to keep out (or, greatly slow down the entry of) the Syrian refugees. President Obama bitterly lashed out against the governors’ and congresspeople’s actions, saying that such policies would represent the loss of precious American values…

I must state ahead of time that I side with our president on this issue. We should take the refugees, and yes, this is a deeply ingrained part of our national culture. But it’s not that simple.

I went on to say that at some point we may have to decide whether acceptance of refugees has become a sufficiently serious threat to our national security that we must reluctantly reconsider our generosity to the world’s distressed. Even if those who would do us harm form a minuscule percentage of the refugees, those few have the potential to do harm so grave that the percentage becomes irrelevant. It is my belief that we are not there yet, but really I don’t have enough information to tell; I’m not sure even Obama does. (See also my comments on percentages regarding the Kate Steinle murder.)

Some people wondered whether my comments on refugees were consistent with my views on H-1B. Don’t refugees have adverse impacts on U.S. citizen and permanent resident workers? What if many of the refugees were in STEM fields, for instance?

Such comments miss the point I was trying to make in my posting: Helping people in distress is an American value. By contrast, enabling U.S. employers to hire foreign workers as young, cheap, immobile labor is antithetical to American values.

Reasonable people may disagree on who should qualify as a refugee, and on issues such as levels of security threats, but I think the basic principle held by most Americans is that we are willing to make some degree of sacrifice — in terms of impacts on job markets, schools, social services and the like — in order to help others desperately in need. But helping tech employers cheat the American worker is NOT a value held by most Americans.

So there is an absolutely fundamental difference between the H-1B and refugee issues. But there’s more: In recent weeks it has become increasingly clear to me that many in the immigration reform (i.e. “restrictionist”) community — not just people in organizations, but also researchers, Hill staffers and so on — do not realize how much H-1B is counter to American values. There is still the (incorrect) view among them that H-1B is used responsibly by the “Intels,” with the main abuse being at the hands of the “Infosyses.”

This of course is a topic on which I have harped, incessantly. But people are busy and no time to read in detail, let alone reflect on the content, and they are highly influenced by their preconceptions, very hard to break. So, I wish to encapsulate my views here:

Norm’s view on the role of STEM employment-based immigration — what it should be versus what it is:

Policy on the hiring of foreign STEM workers, whether as guest workers or for permanent residence, should be for (a) the remedying of legitimate (and rare) labor shortages, and (b) attracting the world’s “best and brightest” to the U.S.

In practice, the vast majority of employers who sponsor foreign labor in STEM do NOT do so for reasons (a) and (b) above. The vast majority of positions filled by foreign workers, whether at Intels or Infosyses, could be filled by qualified U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Granted, there is some variation in intention. In an Infosys, the intention to hire foreigners is open — whereas in the Intels, it’s merely an open secret.

In some cases, not everyone is in on the secret. A hiring manager, for example, may be sent mostly foreign CVs by HR, and not realize that HR has filtered out applicants with U.S. nationality and/or older age (the latter being closely connected to abuse of the H-1B program).

Or, there may be an awareness that H-1Bs are being hired as cheap labor, but with the view that this is actually justified, such as hiring by cash-strapped startups. Some of you probably gasped when your read this last sentence, but I’ve actually had journalists make such an argument to me in all seriousness; such is the hallowed status of tech startups in our national consciousness. And just yesterday, a foreign tech worker made that very argument to me in a discussion on Quora.

Bottom line: The vast majority of employer sponsorships for H-1B visas and green cards, the hiring of OPTs, etc. are counter to American values.

Novelist Hidden in Plain Sight

I’ve referred now and then to Professor Maria Nieto of the California State University, East Bay, who had the courage to speak out when her school closed graduate admissions to domestic students in one term. Yep, they only accepted foreign students. See material and links in my recent posting on David North’s analysis of the Durbin/Grassley bill. Good for Dr. Nieto!

However, little did I know that she is also a novelist, indeed an award-winning one! Both of her works involve historical incidents in Los Angeles. As Maria’s fellow native Angeleno, I look forward to reading them, and those of you out there in blogland may enjoy them too.

I have had other readers (of my blog and my old e-newsletter) who were authors, but Maria is the first novelist.

The Refugee Issue

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who live in the U.S. (definitely including those holding one of the alphabet soup of visa types).

I’ve been meaning to write here my thoughts on the recent actions by some state governors and the U.S. House to keep out (or, greatly slow down the entry of) the Syrian refugees. President Obama bitterly lashed out against the governors’ and congresspeople’s actions, saying that such policies would represent the loss of precious American values. Thanksgiving Day would seem to be an appropriate time for me to comment.

I must state ahead of time that I side with our president on this issue. We should take the refugees, and yes, this is a deeply ingrained part of our national culture. But it’s not that simple.

As with any controversial issue, what frustrates me most is lack of clear thinking, usually on both sides. The refugee issue is no exception. There is a lot of weak thinking in this debate.

The November 21 edition of The Economist, for instance, has an inset box, labeled Providing Context, in which it compares the results of current opinion polls on the Syrian refugees with a 1939 poll in which most respondents opposed accepting Jewish refugees from Germany. This isn’t “context” at all; there weren’t Jews committing terrorist acts, while now there are Arabs and Muslims of various nationalities who are doing so — a very small number, to be sure, but certainly enough to make the two polls far from comparable.

Other commenters have reasurred us that all those involved in the recent Paris bombings were European citizens, not Syrian refugees. That’s like saying that the Tsarnaev brothers, perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings, didn’t come from Syria. Terrorist organizations have found fertile recruiting among Arabs and Muslims  all over the world.

The best argument in favor of taking the Syrian refugees, in addition to the point about this being a key part of our culture, is the obvious one: Only a tiny, tiny percentage of immigrants from Arab or Muslim areas become Abdelhamid Abaaouds or Tamerlan Tsarnaevs. We shouldn’t give up our ideals to keep out the many in order to exclude the tiny number of horrific exceptions.

That is my point of view. About a half mile from my home, there is “church row,” with one mainstream Episcopalian church, two Chinese Christian churches (one Hong Kong, one Taiwan), and, starting about a year ago, a Muslim mosque (which replaced the Korean Christian church). I welcome the mosque, and am pleased that they chose my city for its location. There are of course numerous other religious establishments in my city of 67,000, but this is the first one I’ve seen for Islam.

I could continue my theme in the last paragraph at length, but let me turn now to the other side: President Obama, The Economist and so on are refusing to face the larger question — what happens if and when there are more and more Tsarnaev/Abbaoud incidents? There must be a point at which the balance between ideals and security shifts toward the latter. Obama’s absolutist convictions, while certainly sincere, are naive (or perhaps deliberately oversimplified).

Perhaps there are interventions, such as providing job training for disaffected youth, that may reduce the danger of people in such communities finding the terrorist philosophy so attractive. So, there might be middle grounds, but these are just hypothetical for now.

I was rather irritated to see the pundits in the mainstream media expressing shock at the fact that a number of House Democrats voted to stop the Syrian refugees. Do these journalists really think that that vote was irrational, even bigoted?

Similarly, after 9/11, California Senator Dianne Feinstein — a Democrat — stated publicly that “Middle Eastern-looking” people be given extra scrutiny at airports. When I mentioned that a couple of years later to one of my fellow liberals, he refused to believe it. I had to send him the link to the San Francisco Chronicle article in which Feinstein had been quoted before he would believe that Feinstein would say such a thing.

Let’s keep our ideals, but not resort to slogans and sloppy thinking. The world has changed, due not only to technology but also immigration policies, such as the almost borderless situation within Europe. Policies need to be set based on, yes, ideals, but also realistic appraisal of the issues.

My 2 cents’ worth.


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.


David North on Durbin/Grassley

As I stated recently, David North of CIS is one of my top favorite people in DC. He’s sharp, he’s savvy, he has a fantastic background, and above all, he is simply a nice gentleman of the old school.

I thus read with interest David’s recent blog post on the Durbin/Grassley H-1B/L-1 reform bill. Part 2 came out today, with one more part coming. Unfortunately, I’m almost as disappointed with David’s take on the bill as I am with the bill itself. Indeed, I’m disappointed with both because I had high expectations for both.

I’ll focus here on the bill’s provision in Section 104 that would give visa priority to foreign students earning advanced degrees (this means primarily Master’s degrees in practice) in STEM at U.S. colleges and universities. David and I couldn’t disagree more with each other on this issue; I’ve described it as the worst part of the bill, while he regards it as a big plus. (The old programming joke, “Is it a bug or a feature?” applies. 🙂 ) David writes,

The motivation for the proposed distribution scheme [in Section 104 of the bill] is to encourage the payment of higher rather than lower wages…

while I wrote,

I was stunned by a feature in the new bill that prioritizes the doling out of visas. Actually, I have endorsed proposals made by others to prioritize in the order of offered salary, but this new bill doesn’t do that. Instead, it places foreign students as top priority — a blatant gift to the Intels. Workers who really do have a high salary offer (defined as the top of the 4 levels in the current prevailing wage system) would only get second priority. This makes no sense at all, especially in light of documented evidence that the foreign students are of lower average quality than the Americans. Presumably this was a move to make the bill palatable to the industry, but it’s just wrong.

Here I believe that David (of all people) has succumbed to the industry PR machine to portray the foreign students as all being genius grads of MIT. A small percentage are indeed of that caliber, and I’ve often publicly called for measures to facilitate their immigration. But most of the foreign students are not of that quality at all, and in fact are much more typically from, say California State University, East Bay (formerly Cal State Hayward), an example worth expanding upon.

Some of you may remember that CSUH achieved notoriety when its administration decreed that, due to budget problems, the only admissions for graduate programs in the coming semester would be non-residents, technically including non-California Americans but mainly consisting of foreign students. For example, 90% of the graduate computer science students were foreign.

There are some truly excellent students at any school, but CSUH is certainly no MIT. It’s very easy to get into their program (if you’re a foreign student). A courageous CSUH biology professor, Maria Nieto, spoke out:

A number of my colleagues from different departments around our campus have chimed in that the increase of acceptance of foreign students into graduate programs has actually decreased the quality of the students that they are actually seeing in the classroom. We’re taking a lot of students for example that are not prepared, because they can pay. And I really worry about this.

So, NO, the Durbin-Grassley bill is NOT targeting the MIT geniuses. In many cases, it’s exactly the opposite — very weak students, who will get low pay offers, but for whom D/G will roll out the red carpet.

It’s ironic that many of the immigration reform groups, including I believe CIS, have opposed bills to “staple a green card” to the foreign students’ diplomas precisely for the above reason — they would turn the universities into diploma mills. Yet here David is praising the D/G bill’s provision that would do exactly the same thing — and which myriad schools like CSUH are already doing.

California has more than two dozen CSU campuses. Though CSUH is the one that made news, the level of the students at the other CSUs is similar to that of CSUH, with similarly high concentrations of foreign students. Since people are so obsessed with the Southern California Edison and Disney cases, in which Americans were replaced by foreign workers, I pointed this out in my “advice” to employers on maintaining business as usual under Durbin/Grassley:

The Googles and Facebooks will grab the MIT grads, of course, but you’ll have plenty of students left to choose from who are of quality equal to or better than the H-1Bs you currently use from Indian schools. If you are a company like SCE in southern California, for instance, there are no fewer than TEN CSU campuses nearby, and lots more just a day’s drive away, easy to bring in for interviews.

Let me emphasize strongly: It’s not just the CSUs. We also have 9 UC campuses in California, including my own, UC Davis. While some of my foreign students have been outstanding and I have helped get them jobs in Silicon Valley, most are very ordinary. I wrote the other day,

(Part 2 of rant.) It’s also highly frustrating to me to continue to see my foreign students get jobs from the same employers who are rejecting older Americans I know who have the same qualifications, yes, including up-to-date skills. Again, this is what the other researchers and policymakers on H-1B don’t see. I don’t begrudge the foreign students’ success in their job search, and sometimes write good letters of reference for them, but this just ain’t right.

I have to assume that David would agree that no, this just ain’t right. Yet in praising D/G’s giving top priority to foreign students for visas, David is making it even harder for those bypassed Americans to get jobs. His blog post often has the theme that, though the bill isn’t perfect, it’s better than nothing. But no it isn’t, not when it would make things even more difficult for my American friends cited above.

Similarly, D/G would make things HARDER for Americans like Darin Wedel, whose situation I recently reviewed. He’s the one whose wife challenged President Obama on the H-1B issue. I wrote that in all likelihood, Wedel’s applications for jobs to nearby Texas Instruments were rejected in favor of hiring H-1Bs, and these H-1Bs in almost all cases were foreign students. D/G would be disastrous for people like him. TI’s source of H-1Bs is from the pool of foreign students, not from the Infosyses.

Another way the bill’s preference for foreign students would make things even worse than now: Recall that the bill also would add a nominal requirement that H-1B employers giving hiring priority to Americans. I pointed out that the same requirement for green cards has been famously circumventable, but especially for foreign students, due to the Optional Practical Training part of the F-1 foreign student visa: The employer hires the foreign student right out of school under OPT, has the student work for a year or so, and then applies for an H-1B visa for the student. The latter, having acquired experience on the job, is automatically more qualified for the job than the American applicants, who will then be easily rejected by the employer.

In other words, the bill really misses the boat, and arguably makes things even worse than now. How could those hoping for H-1B reform have gone so far wrong?

Again, all this tragic misassessment of D/G stems from the obsession people have had — especially among the immigration reform people — with the “Infosyses,” the rent-a-programmer firms. I had been cautioning against this for years, but the obsession became even more intense after the Infosyses were found to have supplied foreign workers to SCE and Disney.

Since D/G is focused on the Infosyses (which for example is the reason for giving the foreign students priority), it was then only natural for people to treat D/G as manna from heaven. In the CIS press event on the new Malkin/Miano H-1B expose’ book (at which David urged people to short Disney stock), people in the audience applauded loudly when Francis Cissna, one of the bill’s architects, spoke about the bill.

That was a rush to judgment, folks.

Gender Matters, Forget Age?

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.



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?


The Main Characters in H-1B Story Speak at CIS Event

Well, not all the main characters, but certainly some of the interesting ones. The Center for Immigration Studies recently held a panel discussion at the National Press Club in DC. In addition to Michelle Malkin and John Miano, coauthors of the excellent new book on the H-1B mess, there was Leo Perrero, one of the Disney IT staff replaced by H-1Bs earlier this year in the now-infamous incident. Videos of the event are available, which I highly recommend watching. And in the Q&A — always the most interesting part of any talk or panel discussion — a couple of nonjournalists spoke up who are major players concerning H-1B, as you’ll see below.

My post here will not be an extended analysis of what was said, but rather some points made by the various speakers that I think deserve special comment.


She spent quite a bit of time discussing the failure of the mainstream media to properly cover H-1B and related issues. She asserted that this failure has been deliberate, but I am not so sure. I believe it is at least in part due to the huge success the industry PR people have had in implanting in the American consciousness the notion that we have a STEM labor shortage, that the H-1Bs are geniuses, etc.

Nevertheless, it is likely that certain elements of the media are censoring the topic to some degree. I’ve mentioned for example the very poor coverage in the last few months by the New York Times. The Times had pretty good coverage during 1998-2000 but then went into hibernation on the issue. And though the paper has run several major pieces on H-1B, they have chosen to ignore most of the important points that I and others brought up when their interviewed us.

Malkin mentioned that on the one hand, the new book had gotten her onto CNN, but on the other hand this was the first time she had ever been on the network, rather startling considering her prominence as a journalist. And by the way, in the same pattern I described above for the Times, CNN interviewed me several times during the 1998-2000 period, but not since then.

One point Malkin brought up, which may have slipped right by most ears, is that she, as an Asian-American daughter of an immigrant, has been called a “traitor” by minority activists for speaking out on the problems of immigration. Such, she pointed out, is the result of the excesses of the much-radicalized “diversity” movement on many college campuses today. This has recently led to at least three firings of deans and presidents, due to the radicals’ demands. I strongly support diversity and don’t pretend everything is quite rosy in racial terms on the campuses, but one of the firings in particular was highly unwarranted. I plan to write about this in the near future.

Malkin cited the case of semiconductor engineer Darin Wedel, whose wife Jennifer managed to get a slot in an online town hall meeting with Pres. Obama, in which she demanded to know why Obama was supporting the H-1B program when people like her husband were out of work. Malkin said that this exchange should have been big news, with the media having a feeding frenzy over the inequity. But instead, Malkin pointed out, some in the media accused Wedel of xenophobia! (I was told that one of the reporters making that accusation was David Nakamura of the Washington Post.)

After the incident with Mrs. Wedel, I later posted an analysis of how almost certainly Texas Instruments was hiring H-1Bs into jobs for which Darin Wedel was qualified. Note carefully that — again! — this would be cases in which H-1Bs were hired instead of Wedel, not to replace Wedel. The obsession with the word replace in the discussion on H-1B is way overblown, and harmful.


John gave a first-rate presentation as usual, detailing the fact that the “Gambling? I’m shocked” attitudes we’ve seen in Congress recently on abuses of H-1B are highly disingenuous, to say the least. On the contrary, Congress has over the years deliberately legitimized the abuses by writing the law to allow them, even facilitate them.

John mentioned having to clean up a mess made by incompetent H-1Bs at AIG back in the 1990s. That raises the question (though curiously, no one did raise it) as to why employers are willing to take the penny wise, pound foolish route of hiring weak foreign workers. I think there are a number of reasons for this, ranging from a perception that programmers are just interchangeable commodities to an inability in employers to recognize poor work when they see it.


For someone who is not a veteran in these panel discussions, he did an outstanding job — low key, to the point, nonpolemic.

Perroro was asked why more programmers don’t speak out about H-1B, and organize. He gave the answers I usually give — techies are typically not the types to speak out, and they are afraid of blacklisting by employers — and he also added that it’s very difficult to find an IT job these days, at least in the Orlando area. He went on at length on that point, referring to it as a situation of musical chairs, with too many workers scrambling for the few available chairs.

John added another point that I’ve made as well: Most programmers simply don’t know about the H-1B problem. They don’t realize until, say, they are laid off and find that obtaining another job is far more difficult than they had expected.

One especially interesting comment Perrero made was that he thought at the time, “What if all of us [fired workers] were to band together and refuse to train our foreign replacements? Disney would be forced to back down.”

The Question-and-Answer Session

In addition to journalists, there were a few people in attendance who are involved in H-1B reform. Two who spoke are worth special mention.

Paul Donnelly:

Paul is with IEEE-USA and is a longtime associate of lobbyist Bruce Morrison. I’ve known Paul for 20 years, and though I understand his views well, I don’t think he’s ever understood mine. 🙂 I can’t blame him too much for that, because my objection to his support of proposals (to give fast-track green cards to young new STEM foreign students would exacerbate the already-rampant age discrimination in tech) isn’t understood well even by critics of H-1B.

As noted above, a reporter in the audience had earlier asked Perrero why tech workers don’t organize. Paul then said “I represent the largest tech workers association in the nation,” an egregiously misleading statement. IEEE-USA has refused to poll its members on the H-1B issue. In 2000, the year Paul started work for the organization, they disbanded their excellent Misfortune 500 Web page, profiling 500 engineers who were having troubling finding work, right in the middle of the Dot Com boom. I believe most of their members don’t even know what IEEE-USA is doing about H-1B. The notion that this organization “represents” its members on H-1B is outrageous.

Paul’s answer to Malkin’s complaint that any criticism of H-1B is met with charges of xenophobia was to deflect such charges by supporting fast-track green cards.

There is much interesting, and very unflattering, material on Paul and Morrison in Malkin and Miano’s book, especially in pp.272-273. During the Q&A, Paul, alluding to the phrase “beltway crapweasels” in the book’s title, joked, “I’m one of the crapweasels,” prompting Malkin to interject, “You ARE!”

Francis Cissna:

He is Director of Immigration Research at USCIS, the immigration section of the Dept. of Homeland Security. As I understand it, he has been temporarily detailed to staff work with Senator Grassley.

My interactions with Francis have been very limited, but it is clear to me that he is very sincere, a decent guy who by the way is passionate about keeping Americans in STEM. (He has a physics degree from MIT.) Good for him.

He noted that Grassley and Durbin have a new bill “that addresses this whole nightmare.” He emphasized that “The primary reform of the bill is that it requires employers to hire Americans first…” That provision, which has always been in the green card process, has been shown to be notoriously ineffective for years, as illustrated in the TubeGate videos. Indeed, Sen. Grassley is quite familiar with these videos, as he wrote a letter of protest about such behavior. This is standard practice throughout the industry — recall the statement from prominent immigration attorney Joel Stewart, “Employers who favor aliens have an arsenal of legal
means to reject all U.S. workers who apply” — yet the Grassley bill does nothing to fix it; it merely reuses the same failed policy, one that immigration attorneys thmselves have called a “charade.” Since Francis bills this as the “primary reform” of the bill, they should have done much, much better. I’m sorry, but that reform is essentially useless. Under the bill, it would be business as usual for the employers.

This is especially key in light of the fact that the bill does nothing to rein in the OPT program, which gives work rights to foreign STEM students, and which USCIS has been pushing to extend, not cut back. This ties directly in to the issue of giving (or not giving) Americans hiring priority.  Here is what I wrote when the bill was first announced:

…as the Cohen and Grigsby videos show, the current green card process, which (unlike H-1B) already requires recruitment of American workers, is easily circumvented. This will get even worse if the current White House proposal to expand OPT is approved, as the foreign students will acquire experience in the job supposedly posted on the Internet as open to all, thus rendering the foreign students “more qualified” than the Americans. (Alas, the bill does nothing about OPT.)

As I mentioned above, in all likelihood Texas Instruments passed over Darin Wedel for numerous jobs for which he was qualified, while hiring H-1Bs instead. Moreover, as one of the “Intels,” TI likely sponsored most of those H-1Bs for green cards as well, thus going through the same process that the new bill would add to H-1B hiring. So, had the Durbin/Grassley bill been in place at the time, it would have been of no help to Wedel at all.

For that matter, what about Leo Perrero? Suppose the Durbin/Grassley bill had been enacted a year ago. Would the firing debacle have been prevented? That seems highly doubtful. For one thing, Disney could have hired OPTs; as non-H-1Bs, the situation would not be covered by the bill. (Showing once again how important OPT is.) There are many other possibilities.

Moreover, in the future replacement wouldn’t be an issue anyway, because Disney would be hiring foreign workers INSTEAD OF Americans rather than TO REPLACE Americans. Once Disney starts using foreign workers in those positions, they will always do so.