Planted? Why, yes, what else could one call this article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle? It is chock full of quotes from immigration lawyers promoting the Intels Good, Infosyses bad point of view, with just a token nod to the other side. And guess what? The stars of this article are related to FWD.us, the Mark Zuckerberg organization pushing for more H-1Bs and a broader immigration policy in general. The poster girl H-1B, Angie Gontaruk, works on Marketing and Strategy for FWD.us, and the lawyer quoted in the article, Ann Cun, is connected to FWD.us too. How convenient; FWD.us provides all the seeds, and the reporter merely plants and adds water.
The lawyers claim that H-1B is not about cheap labor after all, as far as the Intels are concerned. They supposedly pay their H-1Bs more than the Americans. Before refuting the lawyers’ claims, I should remind readers of a key point that I’ve mentioned often in these discussions: For the Intels, the attraction of the H-1B program is more about immobile labor than cheap labor. If the employer is also sponsoring the H-1B for a green card, as is typical for the Intels, the worker is essentially trapped, not daring to leave for another employer, as the worker would have to start the green card process all over again at the new company. This is of huge value to employers, who don’t want to be left in the lurch when a worker jumps ship during an urgent project.
Now concerning wages, the primary point is that the official prevailing wage is well below what would be the market wage for that worker, i.e. the wage that worker would command in the open market, given her skill sets, talent level and so on. The official wage floor is defined to be the AVERAGE wage for the given occupation, region and experience level (I, II, III or IV). The employers claim to be hiring the H-1Bs for their rare skill sets, and people with rare skill sets by definition earn ABOVE average wages. So, the official prevailing wage is legal sleight-of-hand to begin with, and the quoted lawyers here are happy to shift those shells around much faster than your eyes can follow.
In my Migration Letters paper, I show that the prevailing wage is typically undervalued by 20% or more, for the same experience level. It is on the order of 50% when accounting for the fact that a core goal of the H-1B program is to hire younger, thus cheaper foreign workers in lieu of older, thus more expensive Americans; see my paper on this topic. So, the point made in the Chronicle article that the employers have to pay several thousand dollars in legal fees is irrelevant; over the 5-10 years the employer has the H-1B, the employer will save WAY more in wages than he pays in legal fees.
And there’s more. In fact, the Intels — by which I mean the firms, large and small, that hire H-1Bs directly rather than renting them from the Infosyses — do indeed pay many of their foreign workers at that lowball official wage figure. Again, see my Migration Letters paper for details. Intel itself, for instance, pays 38% of its foreign workers being sponsored for green cards at that figure, which as noted above, is 20-50% lower than what an American with comparable job qualifications would get.
Shame on the Chronicle for running an article like this, especially since its coverage of the topic has usually been well balanced.