Once Again, Confusion on “Good” and “Bad” H-1B Employers

Sorry for my lack of blog posts recently, just too busy for it. But I must comment on two interesting Computerworld articles today, both with female protagonists. The first wonders whether Ted Cruz’s choice of Carly Fiorina to be his VP will result in a clash between the two of them regarding H-1B. The other reports that the fabulous Jennifer Wedel is still active in her speaking out against the visa.

Cruz introduced the strongest bill to date reigning in H-1B, while Fiorina, as former CEO of HP, would strongly favor the visa program. But I see no clash at all. If Cruz wins the presidency, he will do exactly what Donald Trump did — backpedal, saying that the H-1Bs hired as foreign students at U.S. universities are the “good” H-1Bs, while those imported directly from abroad, via the “rent a programmer” firms such as Infosys, are the “bad” ones. Fiorina’s old firm hires from the U.S. campuses. Hence no conflict.

The Computerworld article points out that HP also does some offshoring, but I believe that that is mostly to HP outposts abroad, rather than going through Infosyses. So, Cruz and Fiorina would announce support for a bill clamping down on the Infosyses, with business as usual for firms like HP. This would be highly misleading, but this is the pattern we’ve seen repeatedly in proposals to “reform” H-1B.

By the way, I was quite impressed by Fiorina during the earlier primary debates. As a Democrat, I disagree with her on lots of topics, maybe most, but Cruz made a good choice in her, I believe.

And Darin Wedel seems to have made an even better choice with Jennifer as his spouse. As the article reminds us, Mrs. Wedel thrilled many of us in 2012 by asking President Obama point blank why he supported H-1B when many qualified engineers such as her husband had trouble finding tech work. The look on Obama’s face when she told him that her husband was a semiconductor engineer was priceless, as was his reply, “We’re told that people like your husband should be able to find work right away.”

Judging from Obama’s expression, I’m sure that he really believes it. And why shouldn’t he? That’s what people keep saying. Texas Instruments, which also hires foreign students from American campuses, is one of the “good” employers of H-1Bs, the claim goes, and even many critics of H-1B believe it. The fact that TI laid Darin Wedel off, but hired H-1Bs (including some whose jobs he could have done), should cause some cognitive dissonance. But no, this artificial distinction between the foreign student H-1Bs and the directly imported H-1Bs is so entrenched that they just don’t see that TI is equally culpable as the Infosyses.

The Computerworld article falls into that trap too:

Although Darin Wedel didn’t train a foreign replacement and was laid off with other workers, Jennifer Wedel says Texas Instruments was lobbying for increasing visa use prior to the layoffs, and she sees a connection.

Of course there is a connection. Wedel was laid off by a company that hires H-1Bs, some of whose jobs I am sure Wedel could have done. So what if he didn’t have to train them? Wedel is just as much a victim as are those laid off by Disney, SCE etc.

Again, there is no way to straighten out the H-1B mess unless people truly understand the nature of the problem.

By the way, in 2012 Computerworld thought that the Wedel incident would become an election campaign issue, which of course it did not. It did briefly become an issue this year, thanks to Trump, but it quickly faded. It never arose once during the Democratic debates, even though Sanders and Clinton disagree on H-1B.



Further Compelling Evidence Against “Staple a Green Card”

As most readers of this blog know, I strongly oppose proposals to “staple a green card to the diplomas” of foreign STEM students earning MS or PhD degrees at U.S. universities. Those proposals are based on the premises that (a) we have a shortage of people with STEM grad degrees and (b) the foreign STEM students are Einsteins-in-waiting. I’ve shown numerous times that neither of these premises is valid.

For example, concerning (b) above, foreign students in computer science, putatively the most important STEM field, are on average WEAKER than their American peers: The foreign students file fewer patent applications; they are less likely to work in R&D; and among those with doctorates, they earn their degrees at less prestigious institutions.

Today’s edition of Inside Higher Ed shows data that is quite disturbing concerning (a).

Percent of Doctorate Recipients With Job or Postdoc Commitments, by Field of Study

Field 2004 2009 2014
All 70.0% 69.5% 61.4%
Life sciences 71.2% 66.8% 57.9%
Physical sciences 71.5% 72.1% 63.8%
Social sciences 71.3% 72.9% 68.8%
Engineering 63.6% 66.8% 57.0%
Education 74.6% 71.6% 64.6%
Humanities 63.4% 63.3% 54.3%

So, the new PhDs in engineering aren’t doing much better than those in the humanities. In fact, PhDs in the social sciences and education are doing better than those in any STEM field.

Even some immigration-reform people have endorsed “Staple” as long as it is restricted only to PhDs. The above figures show such views as ill-advised.

And getting back to (b): An Australian reader brought my attention to this article regarding the University of Sydney. The article is mainly about a sudden change of date for a graduation ceremony and resulting hardship on some students from China and their families, but this passage is interesting:

It is the second time in the past year that the university has come under criticism for its treatment of international students. Last year, it is understood the Chinese consulate appealed to the university when 37 per cent of Chinese students were failed in one of the university’s business courses, drawing accusations of bias towards non-native English speakers.

Though it does appear that the Chinese students are getting a raw deal regarding the graduation date, that 37% figure is troubling. As you may recall, I recently discussed a Wall Street Journal article titled “Heavy Recruitment of Chinese Students Sows Discord on U.S. Campuses,” which among other things cited U.S. faculty who say they are lowering standards in their courses as a result of the low quality of Chinese students.

Even more disturbing is the Chinese consulate’s involvement, protesting that the business course was unfair to the Chinese students. The reader who called my attention to this article added that a professor had told him it is common for Chinese students to berate professors who give them low grades. I recently taught a graduate class in which a Chinese student was quite rude to me, stridently claiming that the (oral) interactive grading for homework was unfair to her, due to language issues. When I told her that two of the three students in the class to whom I gave A+ grades were from China, with English no better than hers, she had to back off. But this student is both weak and has a lousy attitude; we already have enough weak American students with bad attitudes; do we need to import more, via “Staple”?

All of this is quite disconcerting. I must add that it is certainly not consistent with traditional Chinese culture; in the past, a Chinese consulate would not have even considered objecting to the 37% failure rate, out of shame. How things have changed!

As I said in my previous post, there are many truly excellent international students, including from China (over the past weekend I wrote a letter of support for the green card application of one), but it’s clear that a blanket policy like “Staple” is just plain wrong.

H-1B and Gender: Much Ado About Nothing

The April 1 Computerworld article, “How many H-1B workers are female? U.S. won’t say,” is interesting in its pointing out how touchy the federal government has become over the H-1B work visa issue. The feds’ claim that the information would be difficult to retrieve seems fishy.

But the IEEE-USA’s claim the men are overrepresented among H-1Bs compared to among Americans in similar occupations is fishy too. Quoting from the Computerworld piece:

The best source of data for lawmakers on the gender of H-1B workers has been the IEEE-USA. In 2013, Karen Panetta, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University who was representing the IEEE-USA, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and told it that as many as 85% of the visa holders are men.

“Best source?” Really? Here is what Panetta (yes, daughter of the Panetta) said in her testimony:

My own experience tells me that the vast majority of H-1B workers are men. Everybody knows this. The IEEE-USA represents more American high tech workers than anybody else, so we have sources. One from inside the industry, looking at the offshoring companies that dominate the H-1B program, is that their global hiring is 70% men. But in the US, where outsourcing companies get more than half the capped H-1B visas, the ratio is more like 85% men.
“Everybody knows this?” A common way of saying, “We don’t really have serious data on this.” “We have sources”? Tell us who. And tell us if that was just the person’s “own experience,” like that Panetta refers to, versus careful data collection and analysis. And what is this “more like 85%”? This is a scientific statement, “more like”? Does Congress really invite “experts” like this to present testimony? Actually, Panetta then admits she really doesn’t know:
As an engineer, I don’t like making decisions without hard data. The IEEE-USA has been trying for months to get the actual data on this from DHS. They have been stonewalling us. It’s a simple question: how many women get H-1B visas?
Again, I am not defending stonewalling, but Computerworld’s statement that Panetta has the best data is unwarranted, and indeed the article’s own data is not bad. The H-1Bs are mainly programmers, i.e. they fall into the two government categories shown in the article’s bar chart, Programmers and Software Developers. (The government shouldn’t have two separate categories, but that’s a different issue.) And in those two categories, women are MORE represented among the “India-born,” Computerworld‘s proxy for H-1B/former H-1B, than among the general population in those occupations. IEEE-USA ought to be praising H-1B for increasing female percentage, not darkly hinting that the government is covering up some sexist cabal.
As I’ve said bluntly before, IEEE-USA has an agenda, which is to punish the “Infosyses,” thus deflecting attention away from their equally-capable allies, the “Intels.” And they have no credibility, given their refusal to back up their ever-present claim, “We represent 227,000 American engineers” by taking a poll of their members on the issue. Once again, my favorite quote from Senator Grassley: “No one should be fooled.”