Pro-H-1B Study Shows What’s Wrong with H-1B

Stuart Anderson has long written in favor of the H-1B work visa, and indeed makes his living from it, via his (apparently one-man) organization, the National Foundation for Public Policy. He also wrote the 2000 H-1B law as a Hill staffer, and later was at the USCIS. He’s getting publicity for his latest study in various places, including a Wall Street Journal blog.

Yet, oddly, the study confirms what I’ve been saying for a long time: The H-1Bs are generally NOT the best and the brightest, and the nation would benefit by changing the visa program to focus on the outstanding talents. Anderson’s findings, in other words, show exactly what is WRONG with H-1B and various proposals to reform it.

Consider:

  • Anderson finds that immigrants are founders (OR cofounders, a point I’ll come back to) of 51% of the billion-dollar startups. Yet immigrants form more than 51% of Silicon Valley techies, so once again we see that the immigrants are UNDERperforming.
  • Among those immigrant founders, 14 (out of 44) are from India, 32%. Yet Indians form 70% of the H-1Bs. So the Indians are underperforming too. Most of the founders are from countries from which we have rather few H-1Bs, such as Western Europe, Canada and Israel.
  • Only 1/4 of the immigrant founders came to the U.S. as foreign students, counter to the industry’s claim that foreign students are the best of the H-1Bs.
  • Of those with U.S. degrees, most are from the really top schools, such as MIT and Stanford — quite a contrast to the Staple a Green Card proposals, which would give an automatic green card to any foreign STEM graduate student, no matter how weak the school is.

As usual in these “studies,” anyone born abroad is considered an immigrant, such as an example Anderson cites, Kenneth Lin of Credit Karma. Lin immigrated to the U.S. with his parents at age 4, hardly the poster boy for the H-1B work visa program that Anderson implies. Others on Anderson’s listed cofounded their firms with Americans, yet he gives them full credit.

Before H-1B, we had the old H-1 visa, titled “Aliens of Distinguished Merit and
Ability,” basically the “best and brightest” theme. That did deteriorate over the years, so that anyone with a college degree because “distinguished,” but it certainly had the right intent. Anderson’s study shows that H-1B doesn’t fulfill that intent at all.

 

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U.S. Universities Souring on Students from China?

A reader called my attention to this Wall Street Journal article, titled “Heavy Recruitment of Chinese Students Sows Discord on U.S. Campuses.” My wife, a Chinese immigrant, also mentioned it to me.

The concerns described by the article are not new: Lack of mixing of the Chinese students with the Americans (more of a problem with the Chinese than with the other international students); lack of analytical skills; pressure felt by some professors to lower standards in order to accommodate; and so on. But the sheer volume of students from China today is really putting all this under the spotlight.

As many readers of this blog know, although I strongly support facilitating the immigration of the world’s “best and brightest,” I am strongly opposed to the “Staple a Green Card to Their Diplomas” proposals, which would give automatic green cards to all foreign students earning STEM Master’s or PhD degrees at U.S. universities. This WSJ article, on which I will comment below, illustrates why “Staple” is a bad idea.

As the article points out, universities, both public and private, are under great pressure to treat foreign students as cash cows, for instance because some schools charge them higher tuition than for domestic students. It should be abundantly clear that this will necessarily cause a lowering of standards, something usually whispered but here discussed openly by a major newspaper. I was told by a colleague at a mid-level university just yesterday that her Computer Science Department has 400 (!) international students in its Master’s program. Since China leads all nations in the number of foreign students in the U.S., the article is even more relevant to the “Staple” issue.

We do have some “best and brightest”-class students from China. Whenever I teach a graduate class, there is typically at least one Chinese student among the top two or three students. I actively help top foreign students find jobs in Silicon Valley. But most of my Chinese students struggle in my class, for the reason cited in the article, profound weakness in analytical skills.

This in turn is due to a lack of development of these skills in China. With a rote-memory educational system and an age-old culture that does not question authority, the sharp, insightful, innovative students will necessarily be in the minority.

But the article gets it wrong in some senses. For instance, it quotes Professor Nicol on the weakness of many Chinese students in expressing themselves, with the implication being that this is a language problem. That is true to some extent, but the much larger issue is that many of them can’t express themselves well even in Chinese. Traditional Chinese education simply does not develop that skill, and in fact arguably hinders it.

Coincidentally, I was just discussing the language issue the other day with a U.S.-native graduate student. It’s interesting that Nicol “excises colloquialism from his lectures to avoid confusing the nonnative English speakers.” I do use idioms, but explain for the non-native speakers, in a way I aim to be fun for all students, both foreign and domestic. But again, I wish to emphasize that the low analytical abilities should not be attributed to language problems.

In any case, the language deficiencies can be attributed in large part to the failure of most Chinese students to mix with the Americans. It is real (and mostly special to the Chinese among all foreign students), but I must confess that in spite of decades of closeness to Chinese communities, both academic and personal, I have no idea what causes that failure to mix. Is it due to lack of interest on the part of the Chinese students, or lack of welcoming on the part of the Americans, or both? It is interesting that Mr. Shao applied to, and was accepted by, a fraternity; I doubt that this is common, but it is an encouraging sign.

Most troubling, though, is the article’s theme that many professors feel pressure to reduce the quality of their courses, to accommodate the Chinese “customers.” I have been told that this has occurred in Australia as well.

Again, the severe lack of proper analytical abilities is not a new concept, and East Asian governments have been trying to remedy it for years, without much success. But given centuries of tradition, changing this is “easier said than done” — precisely one of the idioms I recently explained to my graduate class.

 

 

 

DHS Sees What It Wants to See

Much appreciation to an alert reader for pointing me to DHS’ Final regulations on OPT. Final, that is, subject to the pending lawsuit, but this is not my subject in this post. Instead, I wish to point out an outrageous mischaracterization DHS makes of my EPI research paper in that document, exemplifying the continuing grossly irresponsible behavior of that agency.

DHS says (referring to me as “EPI,” emphasis added),

With respect to the studies by Dr. Hunt, DHS notes that the NPRM cited those studies in support of the general proposition that STEM workers “are fundamental inputs in scientific innovation and technological adoption, critical drivers of productivity growth in the United States.” 80 FR 63383. The EPI study did not question this proposition. Rather, the EPI study examined a narrow band of STEM fields to show that “immigrant workers, especially those who first came to the United States as international students, are in general of no higher talent than the Americans, as measured by salary, patent filings, dissertation awards, and quality of academic program.”  (61) Specifically, the EPI finding is focused on whether foreign-born students who earned computer science and electrical engineering degrees in the United States file patent applications at higher levels than U.S.-born students earning the same degrees. For electrical engineering, the analysis showed that patenting activity of U.S. and foreign-born students was about the same, while for computer science the analysis showed that foreign-born computer science students apply for somewhat fewer patents than do their American peers.

The EPI paper, however, acknowledges that the Hunt studies cited in the NPRM cast a much broader net, encompassing a myriad of science and engineering fields. The Hunt papers considered the impact of foreign-born workers employed in the United States in myriad visa classifications and fields of study, and was not focused solely on F-1 students or STEM OPT students (nor to just Computer Science and Electrical Engineering research activity). As explained in the Hunt papers, there is support for the proposition that foreign-born scientists and engineers achieve higher rates of U.S. patent filings. The Department continues to believe such patent rates support the conclusion that the STEM OPT extension is in the national interest.

This is way, WAY off the mark, in numerous aspects.

First of all, Professor Hunt published two papers, DHS references 28 and 29. (The latter originally was first published as an NBER working paper, then later in the Journal of Labor Economics, JOLE.) Reference 28 boils down to saying that immigrants have a lot of patents, because they tend to be in STEM fields; American bank managers, truck drivers, lawyers, doctors etc. generally don’t file patent applications. But in Hunt’s second paper, Reference 29, she looked at PER-CAPITA rates; relative to Americans in a given profession, do immigrants file fewer patent applications or more of them? Her answer was that the immigrants are LESS likely to file for patents than natives. In my EPI paper, I quote Hunt from her NBER paper:

After I control for field of study…and education…both main work visa groups and student/trainee visa holders have statistically significantly lower patenting probabilities than natives.

Academic politics being what they are — especially concerning research on immigration, where reviewers often have polarized views on this matter — JOLE told Hunt to remove H-1Bs from her paper, so the above passage was not in the final JOLE version. Nevertheless, even with that omission, she still found that the immigrants filed no more patents per capita than did the Americans.

So, DHS is misrepresenting not only me but also Hunt.

It gets worse:

Recall from above that DHS says

Rather, the EPI study examined a narrow band of STEM fields to show that “immigrant workers, especially those who first came to the United States as international students, are in general of no higher talent than the Americans, as measured by salary, patent filings, dissertation awards, and quality of academic program…For electrical engineering, the analysis showed that patenting activity of U.S. and foreign-born students was about the same, while for computer science the analysis showed that foreign-born computer science students apply for somewhat fewer patents than do their American peers.”

I showed that and much more. Compared to the natives, the former foreign CS students not only filed fewer patent applications, but also had lower salaries (even after getting a green card and becoming free agents), and among those earning a doctorate, earned their degrees at lower-ranking universities. Both EE and CS immigrants were less likely to work in R&D, directly contrary to DHS’ claim of “innovation.”

And as to DHS’s saying that my study only covered the “narrow band” of computer science and electrical engineering: First of all, that’s hardly narrow! Computer occupations alone account for 50% of the H-1Bs. But even more important, DHS itself notes that Hunt’s paper covered the gamut of fields, and as I noted above, she found that “work visa groups and student/trainee visa holders have statistically significantly lower patenting probabilities than natives.” Even if DHS wants to dismiss Hunt’s NBER version of the paper, her final JOLE version (which excluded the H-1Bs) found that, again as noted above, the immigrants filed no more patents per capita than did the Americans.

In other words, DHS’ statement, “As explained in the Hunt papers, there is support for the proposition that foreign-born scientists and engineers achieve higher rates of U.S. patent filings,” is, if you will, patently false.

Furthermore, my paper also quoted the “wide band” statement of Bound et al:

In physics, biochemistry, and chemistry much of the expansion [from the mid-1980s to mid-90s] in doctorate receipt to foreign students occurs at unranked programs or those ranked outside the top 50; the growth in foreign students in engineering is distributed more evenly among programs. Among students from China, Taiwan, and South Korea growth has been particularly concentrated outside the most highly ranked institutions.

This of course jibed with my similar finding that the foreign CS students earn their degrees at lower-ranked schools. But no mention of my Bound citation by DHS in their “analysis” of my paper.

Note by the way DHS’ repeated use of the term “foreign-born” rather than simply “foreign.” As I have pointed out, this is official language from the industry lobbyists’ literature. Granted, a minor point, but one that exemplifies DHS’ cozy relationship with the lobbyists.

So, was that relationship so cozy that the DHS deliberately mischaracterized my EPI paper? Or are the DHS people such “true believers” in the glories of foreign work programs that they simply couldn’t see what was in plain sight in my paper? Maybe they simply lack critical reasoning skills? Whatever the cause is, this DHS document (I’ll discuss other parts of it in future posts), represents a gross failure in responsibility of a key government agency.

 

What a President Trump or a President Sanders Could Do

Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have expressed a desire for genuine reform of the H-1B and related programs. Trump’s written platform is strong (though some of his statements leave some abiguities), and Sanders has spoken out against H-1B for years. Let’s fuse the two of them into a single President Trumpers, and ask what would he could actually accomplish in the foreign tech worker area.

It is a given that no matter how strongly President Trumpers would feel about the issue, Congress — doing the bidding of the powerful tech industry and its powerful allies — would fight him every step of the way. But there is actually much he could do on his own, through legitimate executive action.

The most obvious action would be rescind the Bush-Obama executive actions extending OPT, with the time reverting back to the original 12-month duration. An even bolder act would be to disband OPT entirely, though I wouldn’t recommend that unless meaningful H-1B reform were to be achieved. (I also would suggest grandfathering current OPT “students.”)

A less obvious, but very effective action would be to give the proper interpretation to the term H-1B dependent employer, which is defined to be any employer for whom at least 15% of the workforce consists of H-1Bs. The current interpretation is absurd, as it includes all of the employees in a firm, e.g. the receptionists, delivery people, janitors and so on — jobs that certainly don’t fit the H-1B statute’s definition of workers eligible for the visa, i.e. “speciality occupations for which a bachelor’s degree is normally required.” In other words, since the ostensible aim of the law’s defining an H-1B-dependent category is to protect American tech workers, the denominator on which that 15% threshhold is based should consist only of tech workers, i.e. the company’s engineering and technical workforce, not its general workforce. This would have a huge impact.

President Trumpers could also declare that the green card process will not allow employers to reject Americans on the basis of being “overqualified.” As I have often mentioned, one of the major reasons employers like H-1B and related programs is that they allow them to bypass qualified but older American applicants, hiring young foreign workers instead. This change to the green card process would be of substantial help here.

Most Americans are probably unaware of the fact that many foreign STEM students are supported by federal money in the form of being hired under the research grants held by their professors. President Trumpers could direct his major research funding agencies, such as the NSF, NIH and so on to give funding priority to professors who have a solid track record of hiring U.S. citizen and permanent-resident students and post docs.

Similarly, Trumpers could direct his funding agencies to give priority to universities that have higher-than-average proportions of domestic students in their STEM graduate programs. Needless to say, he would also threaten to reduce federal funding for universities that view foreign students as “revenue enhancement sources.” Trumpers could make similar policies for companies bidding for federal conracts.

So, President Trumpers, how about it?  And for that matter, you too, President Obama.

An Open Letter to the Laid-Off Disney Workers

Your being laid off, replaced by foreign workers, and forced to train your foreign replacements has brought you the nation’s sympathy, and even a few sympathetic comments from politicians. One of the pols even invited you to one of his rallies. Your plight has put the most focus on the H-1B program it has had since 1998, if not earlier. You are paying a very high price, but maybe some good will come from it.

I’d like to mention that I believe that the press will at some point seek your comment on proposed solutions, and I urge you to think very carefully before endorsing them. Most of them are not cures for the disease, but are instead merely palliatives — even placebos — for the symptoms.

I bring this up because I have seen at least one of you comment that Donald Trump’s statement in the debate the other night was limited to granting visas to foreign students “in the Ivy League.” Indeed, Trump did mention Harvard, Stanford and the Wharton School. I believe he meant exactly that, the really top schools, but I also believe that whoever had talked to him had misled him, using rare cases to convince him to support  very broad, general “Staple a Green Card” legislation giving automatic green cards to all foreign students earning graduate STEM degrees at any American university.

They key word here is any. “Staple” would not be limited to the Ivy League, but instead would cover hundreds of schools across the U.S., including in Florida.  The point is that under Staple tens of thousands of foreign students would be given green cards — and then hired by U.S. employers such as Disney. And since they would be new graduates, almost all of them would be YOUNG, in their 20s — and thus employers would hire THEM instead of you, who I am told are mainly in your 40s and 50s. Though the foreign workers who replaced you were cheaper due to several factors, the biggest single factor is that they are YOUNG, thus cheap.

In other words, even if Congress were to BAN outright firms like Infosys, and BAN outright replacing Americans by foreign workers, enactment of a Staple policy would mean that you would still lose jobs opportunities to the YOUNG foreign workers. Or, I should say, they would be “recently foreign,” with their newly-minted green cards. Good for them, but still, employers would hire them instead of you. Indeed, employers could even hire them to REPLACE you, because the ban on replacement by foreign workers wouldn’t apply, because hey, they would no longer be foreign. Slick, huh?

I have stated here before that I believe that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the only ones who would have substantial likelihood of addressing the problem of foreign tech workers. I still believe that. (I do have some hope for Cruz in this regard, but don’t see that this is a big issue for him.) But the industry lobbyists and their allies are very, very slick. Beware of lobbyists bearing placebos.

 

 

 

Intels, Infosyses, Trump: Followup

Right after Trump offended some techie supporters with his remark’s in tonight’s debate, his campaign posted Trump’s reassurance.

Megyn Kelly asked about highly-skilled immigration. The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse and ending outrageous practices such as those that occurred at Disney in Florida when Americans were forced to train their foreign replacements. I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.

This of course is consistent with my report here earlier this evening, which pointed out that Trump’s position is to support the Intels but punish the Infosyses. You might say, “Yes, the allusion to the Infosyses is clear, in the reference to Disney. But where are the Intels?”

As I said in my earlier posting, the Intels tend to get their H-1Bs as foreign students at U.S. universities, rather than importing them from India. The phrasing above, “The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad…” reflects that, and is right out of the official line of the IEEE-USA, which has been pushing “Staple a Green Card,” meaning to give automatic green cards to the foreign students. That of course deceptively defines away the H-1B problem, since the students wouldn’t get H-1B visas in the first place.

As I’ve said so often, this “solution” is equally problematic. The main reason H-1Bs form cheap labor today is that young workers are cheaper than older ones. The laid-off Disney workers, for instance, were probably about 50, and their replacements about 25. The new foreign graduates who get the automatic green cards would also be in their 20s, so the older Americans still wouldn’t get the jobs. The employers’ desire to swell the labor market of young workers would still be fulfilled. And even Trump’s phrasing above, “institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first,” becomes vacuous too — because these new green card holders would now be Americans, another favorite IEEE-USA line.

In other words, it’s a shell game. I doubt that Trump or even his staff understand this, which is the saddest part of the story.

 

Intels and Infosyses — and Donald Trump

I’m getting e-mail messages from some absolutely furious supporters of Donald Trump — who are now FORMER supporters of Trump. They’re hopping mad, because they think he reversed himself on the H-1B issue in tonight’s GOP primary debate.

But their anger is badly misplaced. They should have been angry LAST AUGUST 18, which is the real occasion on which “tonight’s” reversal occurred. If you don’t like what he said tonight, then where were you when he said the same things seven months ago? If you weren’t reading this blog then, you’re excused, but otherwise you’ve failed once again to grasp the central importance of the Intels-vs.-Infosyses issue, which as many of you know, is my favorite bogeyman.

My August 18 post was titled, “¡Ay, Caramba! It Took Only a Few Days for Trump to Reverse His Stance.” In my August 16 post, “Sanders and Trump on Immigration,” I had praised them both, but especially complimented Trump, for instance pointing out

Trump says in his platform what no other politician, including Sanders, is willing to say: Immigration is great in sensible quantities, but in its present form,  both legal and illegal, it’s hammering the lower and middle classes. Take for example the high black and Latino unemployment rates. The Democrats say the solution is education and the Republicans say the path is lower taxes and regulation, and though both may have points, Trump states the obvious — bringing in large numbers of low-skilled immigrants is going to harm the most vulnerable people in our society, our own low-skilled (including earlier immigrants).

(Note: A reader later pointed out that Sanders had in fact made similar statements.)

However, in what turned out two days later to have been a very prescient remark, I wrote in the August 16 post (emphasis added),

Trump’s proposals for handling illegal immigration are vintage Trump, some sensible, some off-the-wall, but on H-1B, the man gets an A+…Most important to me is that, at least as stated, these provisions would go a long way to stem the visa abuse by not only the “Infosyses” (rent–a-programmer firms) but also the Intels, who are just as culpable.

Well, sure enough, two days later, Trump reversed himself, basically saying what I had feared, that the Intels — read, the employers who hire foreign students at U.S. universities, rather than directly importing from India — deserve the H-1B visas after all. He tweeted,

When foreigners attend our great colleges & want to stay in the U.S., they should not be thrown out of our country…I want talented people to come into this country—to work hard and to become citizens. Silicon Valley needs engineers, etc.

That is basically what he said tonight:

”I’m changing. I’m changing. We need highly-skilled people in this country. If we can’t do it, we will get them in. And we do need in Silicon Valley, we absolutely have to have. So we do need highly-skilled,” Trump said. “One of the biggest problems we have people will go to the best colleges, they’ll go to Harvard, they’ll go to Stanford, to Wharton, as soon as they are finished they get shoved out. They want to stay in this country. They want to stay here desperately. They are not able to stay here. For that purpose, we absolutely have to be able to keep the brain power in this country.”

Asked if that represented a change from the position expressed on his website, which states that “[t]oo many visas, like the H-1B, have no such requirement” to hire American workers first, Trump said it was. “I’m changing it, and I’m softening the position, because we have to have talented people in this country,” Trump said.

That “softening,” as I said, actually occurred last August. His campaign just never bothered to update the website. Really, there is nothing new.

So, Trump drank the “¡Intels si, Infosyses no!” Kool-aid last August, not tonight. As I said back then, “Someone got to him.”

Now here is the key point: I can’t really blame Trump for this, because he has tons of fellow Kool-aid imbibers among critics of H-1B, who in spite of many repetitive posts here (“Oh, there he goes again”) that the Intels/Infosyses dichotomy is not only false but destructive, it just hasn’t sunk in.

Just yesterday, for example, I made yet another post railing against that dichotomy, explaining for the umpteenth time that if legislation (e.g. the current Durbin/Grassley bill) were to be enacted based on that dichotomy, the result will be BUSINESS AS USUAL for the Intels AND the Disneys. And yet, once again, I got pushback, the usual line “But the Infosyses ARE different.” Yes, of course they’re different, but that doesn’t change the fact that bills based on “¡Intels si, Infosyses no!” will NOT result in U.S. citizens and permanent residents being hired instead of foreign workers.

So, if you hate to give up that Kool-aid, you shouldn’t be disappointed with Trump’s remarks tonight. But if you want more jobs for Americans, you’d better hope that someone can explain to President Trump that what he thinks is true about the Intels is quite distorted.