The Fine Art of Sophistry

Tomorrow’s New York Times runs a letter to the editor by Bruce Morrison, a lobbyist for IEEE-USA who as a congressperson back in 1990 had a hand in creating the H-1B work visa. Here Morrison is writing on the NYT editorial on which I commented last week.

Recall that the main points in my commentary were that

  • as usual, the Times falsely focused on the “Infosyses” as the main abusers of the visa, implying that the “Intels” use the program responsibly, and
  • the Times incorrectly identified the loophole by which the Infosyses could underpay their H-1Bs; they stated it was due to the fact that, e.g. Disney, can “rent” H-1Bs from the Infosyses, when in fact the real loophole is that the law allows employing younger, thus cheaper H-1Bs instead of older, thus more expensive Americans.

Before I get to Morrison’s letter, a bit of background: In 1998, as part of the first expansion of the H-1B cap, Congress enacted a special category of H-1B employers, called H-1B dependent employers. These basically were the Infosyses, who were accused of being the main abusers, just as the accusation goes today. Under the new law, these employers were banned from using H-1Bs to replace American workers. However, an exemption was made for H-1Bs whose salary was above $60,000. Please note: Before this 1998 legislation, the H-1B program had NO requirement that employers must give Americans employment priority. And other than this special H-1B dependent category, there STILL is no such requirement.

What Morrison does is turn the whole thing upside-down:

This Congress should seize the opportunity to do one simple thing to fix a gaping hole in the system: Repeal the special treatment that Congress provided H-1B outsourcing companies in 1998.

Contractors whose business model is to replace American workers who must train their replacements are actually specifically exempted from the requirement not to displace Americans, provided that they pay a salary that amounts to half the market rate for these jobs.

Morrison thus makes it sound like H-1B employers in general are not allowed to displace Americans, which is not true. He is also implying that in 1998, Congress must have had some special fondness for the Infosyses, and thus gave the latter special permission to displace U.S. workers. Even worse, Morrison implies that Congress even told the Infosyses how much they could underpay their H-1Bs, specifically 50%.  I’ve never seen someone, even a lobbyist, manage to say so many misleading things in a single sentence.

And what about that comment on the H-1Bs being paid half the market rate? That is precisely the age issue that I keep harping on. Congress set up a four-tiered wage level for H-1Bs, based on experience, which is tantamount to age. This four-level system is the crux of the manner in which employers (all of them, not just Infosyses) can hire H-1Bs as cheap labor.

And there’s more: Originally the wage requirement was only two-tiered, but in 2004 the employers successfully lobbied Congress for four levels, resulting in the lowest, Level I, being especially cheap. And who joined the employers in pushing for the expansion from two levels to four? IEEE-USA.

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10 thoughts on “The Fine Art of Sophistry

  1. How did IEEE get co-opted by the H-1b proponents in the first place. My guess, academia. Lee Jamison as president of IEEE, did much to harm U.S. dominance in STEM by supporting foreign workers and, unbelieveably, was head of engineering at Purdue University. Indiana’s only land-grant university at the same
    time.

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  2. > I’ve never seen someone, even a lobbyist, manage to say so many misleading things in a single sentence.

    True. The U.S. Department of Labor has posted a fact sheet at https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/factsheet62/whdfs62N.pdf that states the following:

    > The displacement prohibition generally applies to an H-1B-dependent employer (see WH Fact Sheet #62C), willful violator employer (see WH Fact Sheet #62S), or an employer receiving funding described in the Employ American Workers Act (EAWA) which hires a new H-1B worker during the period from Feb. 17, 2009 to Feb.16, 2011, (see WH Fact Sheet #62Z). The displacement provision applies both to an employer’s own workforce and to the workforce of a secondary/other employer with which the H-1B dependent employer, willful violator employer, or identified EAWA employer, places an H-1B worker.

    Also, the Tech Law Journal states at http://www.techlawjournal.com/employ/80924.htm that Representative Lamar Smith stated the following about the 1998 bill:

    “the no-lay off and recruitment attestations will apply to H-1B-dependent businesses in those instances where they petition for H-1Bs without masters degrees in high technology fields and where they plan to pay the H-1Bs less than $60,000 a year. The attestations are being targeted to hit the companies most likely to abuse the system. Other employers, who use a relatively small number of H-1Bs, will not be affected unless they have been found to have willfully violated the rules of the H-1B program.”

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  3. The simple fix for a gaping hole is to pay “half” the market rate? Lobby cartels’ wheels are very well oiled, I’d say.

    Love the way Morrison sells “staple a green card” idea => More H1s, More greencards (not proportional to H1 quota) => “Intels” assured of more indentured workforce than today. Certainly a positive sum game at the cost of Infosyses !!!

    I have a very bad feeling that in the absence of a blanket ban or a “sensible” reform, the ‘compromise’ is going to be very costly; Status quo is no good either.

    Will now wait for NFAP’s ‘letter to the editor’ 🙂

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  4. No surprise that a former congressman would walk thru the revolving door into Lobbyland, or that sophistry is his weapon of choice.

    But why is the IEEE in favor of any type of what amounts to imported scab labor in tech? What’s the real story behind this?

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