Those who view the issue of foreign tech workers in the abstract — meaning many policy makers, researchers and so on — should be assigned two news items as required reading. The first article, an op-ed on an independent Connecticut news site, directly addresses the H-1B work visa, and questions CT Senator Richard Blumenthal’s judgment on this issue. The second, in the Wall Street Journal, is not about H-1B but it just as relevant, actually more so.
I’ve characterized the current Durbin-Grassley H-1B reform bill as woefully ineffectual, for a number of reasons. I pointed out that the only really useful provision, to reform the prevailing wage requirement, was the first thing to be emasculated when the authors introduced legislation in previous Congresses, and other provisions were not just unhelpful but actually harmful.
In the above-linked op-ed, John Miano gives an excellent explanation of how the lobbyists and the politicians horribly mislead the public on legislation dealing with H-1B and the like:
…if you read the statute, it says right at the top, ‘All H1B workers should be paid the prevailing wage,’ so if you speak to an industry lobbyist, they say ‘this can’t be used for cheap labor, it says so right there at the top, they have to be paid the prevailing wage!’ But then when you scroll down, you find further down that they have a special prevailing wage system that allows them to pay H1B workers at the 17th percentile, so yes, they can be underpaid. The whole statute is written so that it looks like it’s doing one thing but then contains other provisions that undermine what it said before.
Miano’s remarks may not apply to Durbin-Grassley, but it is cogent description of the deception which is rife on this topic. Unfortunately, the article, in quoting Blumenthal’s response to the author’s query, does not really explain how the senator is being so misleading. The between-the-lines thrust of his remarks is that he thinks the “Intels” (mainstream U.S. firms) are using H-1B legitimately, while the “Infosyses” (Indian-owned firms that “rent” programmers to U.S. companies) are the main abusers. The Durbin-Grassley bill, sad to say, takes that point of view.
The WSJ article is dynamite. The first two paragraphs are fraught with relevance to H-1B (even though the author is likely unaware of this):
After more than 20 years as an electronics engineer, Pete Edwards reached the low six-figure pay level. Now, as he looks for a job following a layoff, he finds that salary success a burden.
Although his experience includes the sought-after field of 3-D printing, the 53-year-old hasn’t been able to land a permanent full-time job. Time and again, he says, employers seem to lose interest after he answers a question that they ask early on: “What was your last salary?”
This is the story of H-1B in a nutshell. Age — read wage — is one of the two central issues of H-1B; employers hire younger, hence cheaper, foreign workers in lieu of older (age 35+) Americans. (The other major reason employers like hiring foreign workers is that, if the worker is being sponsored for a green card, he/she is essentially immobile.)
Moreover, did you catch that part about 3-D printers? Whenever the industry lobbyists are asked about older Americans, they dismiss the latter as having failed to keep their skill sets up to date. In most cases, that is simply false.
It’s really unfortunate that even critics of H-1B rarely if ever mention the central role of age. I’ve noted, for instance, that in spite of all the hoopla over companies like Disney replacing American ITers by H-1Bs, it is almost never recognized that the prime reason the foreigners are cheaper is that they are YOUNGER.
Read these two article, both highly informative.