Update on Thursday’s Senate Hearing

A new Computerworld article provides some details on the Senate hearing scheduled for this Thursday, titled “The Impact of High-Skilled Immigration on U.S. Workers.” I discussed how the hearing might go in a previous blog post, speculating that the hearing would be steered in the direction of (a) focusing on the use of H-1Bs to REPLACE Americans and ignore the larger issue of hiring H-1Bs INSTEAD OF Americans, and (b) supporting the notion of giving visa preference to foreign students.

Now that the list of witnesses is out, it seems that at least one of them will be speaking in favor of (b): Professor Chad Sparber. He has coathored several pro-H-1B papers with my UC Davis colleague Giovanni Peri, and is in fact a UCD PhD. The paper of his that I was sent argues for prioritizing the allocation of H-1B visas by “ability.” He never spells out what this means, at least from what I can tell in skimming through the paper, just mentioning salary and terms like “highly educated.”

I don’t like the latter criterion, say if it means giving priority to holders of MS or PhD degrees, but I do support the notion of prioritizing on offered salary. However, if  Congress were to take Sparber’s recommendation — partly based on what they want to hear — this will morph into giving foreign students priority, as in the Durbin-Grassley bill, which I have strongly criticized.

Three other panelists, Hira, Miano and Salzman, are of course very knowledgeable. Unfortunately, I believe they will be ignored, with their words being filtered by the minds of the senators, who will believe that these three are endorsing an “Intels good, Infosyses bad” policy, which they are not. This error will be reinforced by the presence of the Disney victim Leo Perrero, and the word replace will be bandied about frequently.

I remember one hearing in which Professor Hira gave a devastating argument regarding the industry’s claim of a tech labor shortage. Hira pointed out that salaries of liberal arts graduates were rising at the time, and he asked rhetorically, “Do you believe there is a shortage of liberal arts people?” The congresspeople ignored him, and resumed their monologues claiming a shortage of STEM people.




4 thoughts on “Update on Thursday’s Senate Hearing

  1. At least there are a couple of witnesses reflecting the concerns of many of the readers of this blog. It could have been a lot worse; they could have all been pro unlimited H-1Bs without any restrictions.

    If the Staple initiative goes through, the US graduate H-1B preference is meaningless since they would rather have the green card.


  2. I doubt it will do any good, but I was given the opportunity to tell my story to a Brad Watts yesterday.

    I stressed the “hired instead” of factor but I got the feeling that once he realized I was not part of a bigger group of people that had been displaced or working with a bigger group to fight what is happen, well I got the sense that they weren’t interested.

    Now if I had been able to say that I am speaking for the 3 million plus American workers who have seen their jobs sent offshore or watched their jobs disappear as temporary guest workers on non immigrant visas were brought in to take their jobs here at home, well I believe I would have gotten his attention.

    United we stand, Divided we fall.
    It really is that simple and I also believe the number is closer to 36 million Americans when you look outside the software, or stem portion of jobs.


  3. H-1B was never strictly a STEM issue. MBA students and even attorneys are displaced. Unless and until all US workers become concerned and, yes, angry about the use of foreign nationals in positions for which there are capable and willing US citizens and permanent residents, the displacement of workers by foreign nationals willing to work for low wages simply to be able to work in the US will continue.


  4. Besides Sparber, one other witness spoke in favor of H-1Bs. That was Mark O’Neill, Chief Technology Officer of JackThreads, an online men’s clothing company. His submitted testimony is at http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/download/02-25-16-oneill-testimony. In it, he states the following:

    > Competition is so fierce that my developer starting salaries have risen by over 50% in the last eight years, and senior positions command compensation that meets or exceeds even that of United States Senators.

    This made me curious as to how many H-1B workers JackThreads was hiring and what they were paying them. You can see this information by going to the app at https://labor.shinyapps.io/lca1/ and typing JACKTHREADS in the “Search EMPLOYER_NAME” box. Following is the output:

    [1] “H-1B DISCLOSURE DATA, OCT 2014 – DEC 2015”
    [1] “”
    [1] “SUM(TOTAL.WORKERS) = 2”
    [1] “NUMBER OF ROWS = 2”
    [1] “MEDIAN(LOW_WAGE) = 135,000”
    [1] “MEAN(LOW_WAGE) = 135,000”
    [1] “”

    As you can see, JackThreads have submitted applications to hire just two H-1B workers in the last year and a quarter. They did offer to pay them reasonable salaries of 130K and 140K. The WAGE_PW values indicate that this was 1.17 and 1.26 times the so-called “prevailing wage”. Still, this is for the very expensive work area of New York City and is less than the 174K of U.S. Senators (see http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/senate_salaries.htm ). Of course, by “senior positions”, O’Neill may have meant upper managers or executives for whom such a salary would be no surprise. Or it may even refer to some of their top technical talent. But it does NOT refer to his recent H-1B hires.

    In any event, I did wonder why O’Neill was the industry representative called to testify when he has relatively little recent experience with H-1Bs. My guess, is that he was cherry-picked, possibly based on the LCA data, since his company’s data does not reveal any obvious abuse of the program. On the other hand, note the page that comes initially comes up at https://labor.shinyapps.io/lca1/ . As can be seen, the 11th through the 40th applications requesting the most workers comes from Apple Inc., all for 150 workers each to work in Cupertino, California. Those are likely to fill the new headquarters building (described as a giant spaceship, by some) that they are currently building. If you type CERTIFIED, APPLE, and CUPERTINO into the first 3 search boxes, you get the following totals:

    [1] “H-1B DISCLOSURE DATA, OCT 2014 – DEC 2015”
    [1] “”
    [1] “SUM(TOTAL.WORKERS) = 21,985”
    [1] “NUMBER OF ROWS = 1,616”
    [1] “MEDIAN(LOW_WAGE) = 124,700”
    [1] “MEAN(LOW_WAGE) = 124,388”

    That’s 1,616 applications requesting nearly 22 thousand H-1B workers!


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