When I testified before the House in 1998 on H-1B, Qualcomm executive vice president of Human Resources Dan Sullivan happened to be sitting next to me at the witness table. I was a bit taken aback by his raw, gloves-off style. Ever since then I noticed that, among major tech firms, Qualcomm has generally been the one to make the fewest of the obligatory protestations, “Oh, we’d love to hire Americans instead of H-1Bs, but very few Americans are qualified.” So I read with interest this article in The Register titled , “SEC: Qualcomm Hired Relatives of Chinese Officials to Seal Biz Deals.”
Here are some excerpts:
- One official asked Qualcomm employees to find an internship for her daughter studying in the US and the company obliged, acknowledging in internal communications that her parents “gave us great help for Q.C. new business development.”
- Qualcomm provided a $75,000 research grant to a US university on behalf of the son of a foreign official so he could retain his position in its PhD program and renew his student visa. Qualcomm also provided him an internship and later permanent employment, and sent him on a business trip to China (during which he visited his parents over the Chinese New Year) despite concerns expressed about his qualifications for the assignment.
- The son’s initial interview for permanent employment resulted in a “no hire” decision because he was not “a skills match” and did not “meet the minimum requirements for moving forward with an offer.” Those who interviewed him agreed “he would be a drain on teams he would join.” A human resources director still advocated for the hire, writing, “I know this is a pain, but I think we’re operating under a different paradigm here than a normal ‘hire’/‘no hire’ decision tree. We’re telling this kid … we don’t want to waste time or extend any extra effort in this favor [the telecom company] has asked of Qualcomm, and then turn around and ask the same person we just rejected to do us a special favor.”
Well, this explains in part (though far from completely) why I’ve seen so many weak foreign students hired — and much better-qualified Americans passed over.
And those readers of this blog who are techies will recognize immediately the language in that third bullet, because they’ve been rejected so many times for jobs they are highly qualified for. Again, this is mainly due to the age issue and not to the Chinese “princelings” (太子黨), but I’m sure that my techie readers will appreciate the rich irony.
Actually, I now wonder about the earlier stage, gaining admission into U.S. universities in the first place. Maybe a lot of influential people are pulling strings there too, to get mediocre foreign students from third-tier schools back home into well-known U.S. institutions.
Plugging “Qualcomm engineer” into LinkedIn just now, I saw a number of odd transitions, such as one engineer who had gotten her bachelor’s degree at Rajiv Gandhi Proudyogiki Vishwavidyalaya (huh?) but somehow got into Cornell for her master’s. Could be that she was a genius standout at that Indian school, whose talent was duly recognized by Cornell. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy is a former Cornell trustee, and that there are probably numerous such connections that well-heeled students in India can exploit.
Many years ago, when I was handling graduate admissions for my department, we had an applicant whose father had a prestigious government post in East Asia. She had decent but not outstanding grades at a small U.S. four-year college. But out of the blue, a famous ethnic Chinese scientist called me to press for her admission. He couldn’t supply any information about the young woman’s academic talents, but assured me that she would work out.
I must state here that Qualcomm hired a really brilliant grad student of mine from China a few years ago. I served as a reference for him, and gave him an enthusiastic recommendation. But I am sure that most foreign students hired by Qualcomm, as with the industry as a whole, are ordinary people during ordinary work.