I had to fight the temptation to title this post, “The Bruce Morrison Show.” It certainly would have been an apt title, but just too snide. I have seen indications that Mr. Morrison sincerely believes in his cause, so I’ve toned things down a bit with the more mundane title.
But the fact remains that the show was a travesty, with Morrison as the main character. I know that many victims of the H-1B program were thrilled with the broadcast, feeling that “They are finally telling our story.” But the program, especially Morrison, completely mischaracterized the core problems with H-1B, and did so in exactly the manner the tech industry has been promoting: The message is that the firms I call the “Intels,” meaning those that hire H-1Bs as foreign students at U.S. universities, are using the visa program responsibly, while the “Infosyses,” the mainly Indian firms that hire H-1Bs directly from abroad and then rent them out to U.S. firms, are the Bad Guys.
Before I continue, I must clarify that I mean the “Intels” to include not only the large tech firms, but also many, many employers such as Bank of West, a Bay Area financial institution. The BofW also hires foreign students from U.S. campuses, just like Intels. So instead of describing the tech industry’s lobbying message as Intels Good, Infosyses Bad, let’s use a slightly less succinct term, F-1s Yes, Direct Imports No. (The student visa is F-1.)
Now, back to Morrison and the organization he represents, IEEE-USA. Morrison was the ONLY “expert” 60 Minutes chose to put on the show. (As I mentioned last week, the producer originally scheduled me to be filmed when they were in the Bay Area for the UCSF case, but canceled the next day.) Please bear with me here, because it is paramount to understand how egregious 60 Minutes’ choice of Morrison was as the star of their show.
Morrison, as the show mentions, was one of the original architects of H-1B in 1990. As too often is the case, he later became a lobbyist, from which he has been raking in the bucks. A major client is IEEE-USA, an organization of about 200,000 electrical engineers (many of whom are actually programmers). Why would those engineers be interested in Morrison, given my statement above that Morrison is really promoting the interests of the tech companies rather than tech workers?
The answer of course is that those engineers didn’t hire Morrison; their “leadership” did. (With many if not most being unaware of this.) And in turn, the leadership was motivated by survival. In the 1990s, IEEE-USA was in the forefront of opposing the H-1B program. However, this didn’t sit well with the IEEE parent organization, which is dominated by the industry and academia, the two sectors benefiting from H-1B. There were even public threats by the parent group, as I recall, and apparently the parent ordered IEEE-USA to back off. The main IEEE-USA staffer who was lobbying Congress against the visa program was reassigned, and his excellent Web page was taken down. And, by the way, calls by some members for the body to poll its members on the H-1B issue were refused.
And IEEE-USA hired Morrison, who with his former associate Paul Donnelly, who had moved to IEEE-USA, formulated the F-1s Yes, Direct Import No idea, in the form of granting green cards rather than work visas. This became what in recent years has become known as Staple a Green Card to Their [the Foreign Students in U.S. Schools’] Diplomas.
Here is the core of the issue:
- The “Intels” are just as culpable regarding H-1B (and OPT etc.) as are the Infosyses.
- The “Intels” have publicly admitted that their PR strategy is F-1s Yes, Direct Imports No. Demonizing the Infosyses distracts attention away from themselves.
- Morrison was hired due to industry pressure on IEEE-USA, and he has been one of their main messengers promoting F-1s Yes, Direct Imports No.
60 Minutes knew of these things. As I mentioned before, the producer had talked to me on the phone for an hour. He and I have also had extensive e-mail exchanges. He was clearly very sharp, and the above points are verifiable. Yet they chose to make Morrison the hero of the show.
Granted, the show did briefly mention that companies like Google and Facebook (and CBS) use H-1Bs, and then juxtaposed it with a quote of Morrison, giving viewers the impression that the Intels too are abusing the system. Perhaps Morrison was alluding to the fact that some clients of the Infosyses are Intels.
But basically the show — including the thrust of Morrison’s commentary — was all about the Infosyses and the Direct Imports: The interviewed laid-off programmers were all victims of Infosyses; the entire narrative was about H-1Bs replacing Americans, as is the habit among the Infosyses, ignoring that there is just as much problem with H-1Bs being hired by the Intels instead of Americans; Morrison’s “loophole” involves the Infosyses; all the firms 60 Minutes listed as replacing Americans by H-1Bs — Disney, SCE, Northeast Utilities etc. — did so via the Infosyses.
Note that in the show, 60 Minutes knew, but did not tell viewers, that Morrison is a lobbyist who has made tons of money by delivering this message. 60 Minutes knew, but did not tell viewers, that Morrison’s description of a “loophole” was highly misleading. 60 Minutes knew, but did not explain to viewers (other than one fleeting instance of using the word young) that the core enabler of abuse of the visa is NOT the loophole, but instead is AGE, with employers hiring younger, thus cheaper H-1Bs in lieu of older, thus more expensive Americans.
Morrison’s loophole, implemented in the 1998 legislation that temporarily doubled the H-1B, was aimed at the Infosyses. This was the theme of the congressional discussion, Intels Good, Infosyses bad. The statute defined an “H-1B dependent” employer category, consisting of employers with 15% or more of their workforce being H-1Bs, and required such employers to give Americans hiring priority. (H-1B in general has no such requirement.) The 15% figure was strategically set; originally a 10% threshold was planned, but the Intels howled. H-1B dependent firms were then also required to pay at least $60,000 a year.
Morrison, both on 60 Minutes and in his numerous other public statements, gives the impression that all Congress need do is raise that $60K figure and the problem is solved. He doesn’t tell you that the Intels would not be subject to this, as they are not H-1B dependent employers.
One of those Intels, for instance, is IBM. That company is also into the outsourcing business, and even if the Infosyses were shut down tomorrow, companies like IBM would take up the slack. And with Staple, a likely ingredient to any legislation, Disney etc. would just hire from that new pool. Result: No additional jobs freed for American workers.
Morrison’s favorite line — used repeatedly in mantra-like fashion by him and his surrogates — is “The H-1B visa was not intended to be used for cheap labor.” This is clearly an incorrect claim, as can be seen for instance in the low wage floors defined in H-1B law. Instead of a single wage floor for a given occupation and region, there are multiple levels of experience defined, enabling the core of H-1B abuse — hiring younger, thus cheaper, H-1Bs in lieu of older, thus more expensive Americans. Indeed the change from two levels to four in the 2004 legislation had been pushed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association for years, and by the way, was endorsed by this same IEEE-USA. Small wonder the vast majority of H-1Bs are at Levels I and II (for both the Intels and the Infosyses).
And there’s a lot more. Morrison’s legislation defined the wage floor as the average wage for the given occupation, region and experience level. This is a more subtle, though even more pernicious, hidden loophole, as follows. The employers claim they hire H-1Bs for their rare skill sets, but rare skill sets command a premium wage in the open market, not the average one. In other words, the employer is getting a more valuable worker for just an average wage.
But of course, none of this was stated in the 60 Minutes report either. The bottom line is that Morrison couldn’t have asked for a better platform for his misleading message.