People in Glass “Houses” Shouldn’t Throw Stones

Sorry for the overly blunt pun in my title, but I must note my amusement at seeing this article reporting that 200 members of both houses of Congress are suing Trump for profiting in his businesses while serving as president. This is the same Congress that was exposed a few years ago as actively engaging in insider trading in stocks based on their information and power gained as legislators? And it’s still happening.

Rank hypocrisy. A pox on both your houses.

Wrap-Up Regarding Rep. Khanna

I laid down the gauntlet in my last post, suggesting to Rep. Khanna that if he truly wants to get to the bottom of the H-1B issue, he ought to meet with me. As I said, “for better or worse, I am the one who ‘knows where the bodies are buried’ on H-1B…The ball is in your court.”

Needless to say, I didn’t think it would be likely that he would respond. On the contrary, his flurry of tweets on the issue (and on me) abruptly came to a screeching halt. Maybe Rep. Khanna is more receptive to the entreaties of his staff to calm down than Pres. Trump is to his. 🙂 Tweeting may be harmful to one’s political health.

Well, then, what if anything came out of the VOA debate? I am confident that the debate and aftermath at the very least made Khanna aware of the fact that Silicon Valley employer exploitation of H-1B de facto indentured servitude is rampant. During the debate he had loudly demanded that I supply him with names of related people at Google, but when I offered to do so, both during the debate and on several occasions since, he backpedaled. Nevertheless, I gave him several other sources that would show him the problem, and really, ANYONE in Silicon Valley who has ever been sponsored for a green card by an employer could tell him about this. Still, whether or not he followed up to verify, I think we can safely assume that he got the point.

And it is a BIG point, as it shows Mr. Khanna that those deep pockets Valley CEOs who put him in Congress (third try) are the diametric opposites of innocent idealists like him. They are cold, calculating businesspeople who are often ethically challenged. If he wants to stay in office and engage in his do-good societal activities, he will have to make a Faustian bargain with them.

One of the more influential figures among critics of H-1B, “John,” completely agreed with the Intels Good, Infosyses Bad, Foreign Students Genius view for many years. My own efforts to educate him fell on deaf ears — until Poachgate, in which it was revealed that Google, Apple and so on had engaged in illegal collusion regarding their engineers. That turned John around, as he suddenly realized that Silicon Valley CEOs were not the glorious, innocent nerds that he had pictured. Maybe Khanna will have a mini-epiphany in this regard too, though it won’t change his course of action.

And note, the illegal collusion in Poachgate was aimed at keeping employees immobile, as above, no coincidence. As I mentioned during the debate, Google stated in a meeting with several of us researchers that they prefer hiring foreign students for their immobility. They had tried keeping the Americans from jumping ship by dragging out the granting of stock options, but it hadn’t worked; for the foreigners, green card sponsorship achieves the goal. The problem leading to Poachgate was the same; the CEOs agreed not to hire each other’s workers.

The debate with Khanna has also taught us something about the San Jose Mercury News. Here it is my turn as the naive innocent. I’ve been dealing with them throughout the nearly 25 years I’ve been writing about H-1B, and am always happy to give them my time when they call for an interview. Though their editorial position (and even their TV commercials) has been unwaveringly pro-industry, their news coverage of the issue has been impartial and of high quality. But I was quite disappointed in this case.

Alan Tonelson, in his blog post today, remains skeptical regarding the Mercury editor Neil Chase’s claim that a full video of the VOA debate was not recorded. Naif that I am, I appreciate the editor’s taking the time to post his denial on my blog, and I am inclined to believe he is sincere. But I am much less trusting of the Mercury reporter who was running the videocamera at the debate, as she was openly hostile to me, very unprofessional and raising the possibility that even the editor may not know the full truth as to whether a full video was indeed produced.

More importantly, though of course I as the subject of Khanna’s tweets am biased, I agree with Alan’s point that this was an obvious news item. Just think of it: A politician participates in a public panel discussion with a person of opposing views, with the politician occasionally raising his voice, and then subsequently goes into a tweeting spree, trashing the other person over the course of several days, all over a topic the newspaper considers of central importance. Sure seems like a juicy news item to me. But Mr. Chase declined to act on Alan’s suggestion.

The Durbin-Grassley(-Khanna) Bill

Following up on my post yesterday, I can now report that Rep. Khanna continues to tweet furiously on the H-1B issue and on my views of it. Here is yet another exchange between him and Alan Tonelson:

Replying to @AlanTonelson @mercnews
> He [Matloff] fears it [the median-wage provision] would be stripped away in negotiation but I don’t believe that to be the case. The best part of bill is raising the wage!…He acknowledges that the [Durbin-Grassley H-1B reform] bill would create a median wage! That’s a big step forward. That’s the best part of the bill

Well, this is major progress! A couple of days ago he accused me of not knowing the bill well, and now (after Alan pointed him to my blog post on D-G) he admits that I know the bill after all. This should have been clear during the VOA debate between him and me, when I stated that yes, I had read the bill in full, that I knew the people who drafted the bill etc.

But even more interestingly, he now states, correctly, that he and I agree. His comment above, “That’s the best part of the bill,” is quite consistent with my blog post, in which I stated:

I have endorsed Grassley’s previous bills — but only because I found one particular feature useful: The bills would redefine the official prevailing wage to be the median in the given occupation and region, overall, not broken down according to experience levels.

As he notes, what I also said was,

Unfortunately, the new bill suffers from exactly the same problems, and indeed makes things worse, in my opinion. Granted, the old prevailing wage redefinition provision is still there, BUT that provision was the first one to be emasculated in negotiations in the old Grassley bills. I’m sure it would not survive in the current one either.

I’ve been writing about the H-1B issue for nearly 25 years (!). I’ve seen a lot of bills come and go. The median-wage provision was the first to be deleted (actually, greatly weakened), and yes, it would happen again for the same reasons (the age issue).

I don’t doubt that Rep. Khanna means well (in his calmer moments). Thus I don’t blame him for cosponsoring a House version of the D-G bill. But he is unaware of this legislative history, e.g. the statement made back in 1996 by Senate Immigration Subcommittee Chair Alan Simpson, 

I was working with the business community…to address their concerns, [but] each time we resolved one, they became more creative, more novel.

He also is unaware of — or refuses to believe — that the industry firms that hire foreign students from U.S. university campuses (the “Intels,” firms that D-G rewards) are just as culpable as the outsourcing firms (the “Infosyses,” that D-G punishes). It was the Intels who shot down that median-wage provision in one of the earlier versions of D-G, and unless and until Khanna understands that, he will continue to write shrill tweets defending the bill.

He can start understanding that point by taking me up on my offer to give him the name of the Google HR person who stated that Google prefers to hire international students over Americans because the foreigners essentially cannot leave Google for another employer. Recall that this exchange during the debate about my comments about Google,

Khanna reacted quite sharply to this, his voice rising. “This is a very serious charge! You have no proof! Who at Google said this? What are their names?” I replied that I had stated this publicly before without objection from Google, and then said, “I’ll give you the name of the HR person, who by the way is now at Facebook. You should call Google.” But of course he did not take me up on the offer.

Khanna asked for this name! My offer to supply it to him still stands, as I said yesterday.

And if he is reluctant to go that route, he can check the sources I cited during the debate that show that this kind of abuse of the foreign students is widespread, such as

  • the NRC report commissioned by Congress
  • statements by Immigration Voice (including congressional testimony), an organization of foreign workers, stating that exploitation of the workers waiting for green cards is rampant (note: the Infosyses only rarely sponsor their foreign workers for green cards; GC sponsorship is an Intels practice)
  • the Web site of attorney David Swaim, who designed the immigration operation of Texas Instruments and is now in private practice; Swaim openly urges employers to hire foreign students in lieu of Americans, because of the immobility described above

Again, I do give Khanna credit for meaning well. But if he is indeed well-meaning, he will check with the above sources to get to the bottom of this issue.

Indeed, what he really ought to do if he is truly interested in doing the right thing on H-1B would be to meet with me. Within the last year, I have met with a senior partner of Fragomen, the nation’s largest immigration firm; the federal Dept. of Labor; and the federal EEOC — all at THEIR invitation, not initiated by me. If they believe I have something to say on this issue, maybe Khanna should recognize that, for better or worse, I am the one who “knows where the bodies are buried” on this issue.

The ball is in Mr. Khanna’s court.

 

Plenty-of-Drama Khanna

Former President Barack Obama was proud of his ability to keep calm, calling himself No-Drama Obama. During the VOA debate with me on the H-1B work visa, Rep. Ro Khanna lost his cool on several occasions, and yesterday he and blogger Alan Tonelson got into quite an exchange on Twitter, in which Khanna rather intemperately (and inaccurately) lambasted me.

After the term road rage (sadly) came into the vernacular some years ago, someone coined the term ‘Net rage, to describe people who are normally mild-mannered but get testy on the Internet. Now we are seeing Tweet rage. Apparently President Trump is not the only one with this affliction.

Mind you, I like this aspect of Khanna, as it means that at least to some extent he is not the typical canned-speech, blow-dried-hair politician. As I said before, Khanna is genuinely idealistic; good for him. So when that makes him lose his cool now and then, fine by me.

Khanna reacted to Tonelson’s blog post that took the San Jose Mercury News/Bay Area News Group to task for not placing their video of the debate online. (More on the video below.)

Khanna tweeted,                                                      

Matloff made unsubstantiated claims and did not know the details of that [Durbin-Grassley H-1B reform] bill, or the issues of where the abuse was taking place.                                                              

I have no idea what he meant by “the issues of where the abuse was taking place,” which is a little bizarre considering I’ve been writing about this for nearly 25 years. But let’s look at the other two allegations he made.

First, Durbin-Grassley: During the debate, Khanna said that he supports the bill, and is a cosponsor to a House version. When I said I don’t support the bill, he asked, again rather testily, “Have you read it?” I answered yes, and he asked if I had read the latest version, and I said “Yes, unless it has changed in the last two weeks” (the latest version is dated January 20). I then added that I knew both the author of the bill, Francis Cissna, and Grassley’s main aide on the bill, Kathy Nuebel, and that in past years Kathy had occasionally consulted with me. I supported earlier versions of the bill in previous Congresses, but oppose the current one.

Of course, Kathy and Francis were not pleased by my criticism of the later version, but the point is, YES, I am highly familiar with this bill, both present and past. For Rep. Khanna to say I don’t know the details of the bill is patently false.

Now, what about those “unsubstantiated claims”? Khanna had brought this up during the debate, when I discussed a meeting between about a dozen of us researchers and two people at Google, one a senior engineering manager, and the other an HR person. The two Google people volunteered the information that they prefer to hire foreign workers, due to their de facto indentured servitude: Under green card sponsorship, the workers are essentially trapped, unable to change employers — a huge plus from Google’s point of view. I also noted that this problem was well-known, e.g. cited in the NRC report commissioned by Congress.

As I mentioned in my original report on the debate, Khanna became quite agitated when I brought up Google’s frank statements, amounting to admitting abuse. From my original report on the event:

Khanna reacted quite sharply to this, his voice rising. “This is a very serious charge! You have no proof! Who at Google said this? What are their names?” I replied that I had stated this publicly before without objection from Google, and then said, “I’ll give you the name of the HR person, who by the way is now at Facebook. You should call Google.” But of course he did not take me up on the offer.

Well, the offer is still open. Khanna is welcome to contact me at any time, and I will supply him with the name of the Google HR person. And as I said, there were about a dozen others at this meeting, who could presumably confirm. How about it, Mr. Khanna?

Now finally, concerning the video recording of the event, the editor of the paper made a reader comment on my blog site,

Hi. I’m the editor of the Mercury News. We had a photographer there who captured some still photos and some video for use with a future story, but we didn’t attend with the intention of taping the full debate and did not. I’m at nchase@bayareanewsgroup.com if you’d like to get more details directly.

Nice of him to take the time to post this. It’s a little odd, because the Mercury reporter had indicated that a full video was in fact recorded, and the videographer seemed to be taping continuously. (She had the videocam on a high tripod, seemingly much for an occasional clip. The VOA, in interviewing me for 20 minutes after the debate, just used a handheld camera.) But the reporter may have misunderstood and maybe the taping wasn’t continuous. Maybe it wasn’t full because 17 minutes of tape were missing. 🙂

In any case, this should have been a newsworthy event, especially for the Mercury News. This was the only  public debate ever held between a politician and a researcher on the H-1B issue. Since the Mercury considers H-1B to be a major topic, why no article about it????

Tonelson Blog on Khanna/Matloff Debate Video

Many of you will recall my recent report on my public debate regarding the H-1B work visa with Rep. Ro Khanna (and a third person who did not really discuss the visa). To my knowledge, this was the first time a debate has been held between an elected official and a researcher on the topic, a major event in that sense.

In my opinion, Khanna did quite poorly in the debate. Though I was pleased to find that the idealism he has projected in the press seemed quite sincere — always a big plus in my book — he clearly knew rather little about the visa and even less about the visa’s critics.

The San Jose Mercury News/Bay Area News Group had videoed the entire debate, and I had assumed they would make the video available online. Viewers could then see Khanna’s side of the story, rather than relying on my (presumably biased) report here. A contact at the Mercury promised to look into the status of the video, and informed me the next day that, unfortunately, the paper will not be placing the video online.

Alan Tonelson, who writes a thoughtful and erudite blog that generally takes a skeptical view of the tenets of globalism, made a blog post today on this entire “Videogate” incident. The last three paragraphs make the point especially strongly:

As Matloff noted in an email to me, “Certainly it would have cost the Merc nothing to put the video on the Web, quite easily and simply.” And it’s hard to disagree with his judgment that the paper “would be performing a major public service by placing the video online (in full, of course).”

So it’s necessary to take seriously Matloff when he speculated, in that same email to me: “I can certainly see the Merc wanting to protect Rep. Khanna. They had endorsed Khanna, and generally feel their loyalty is to the tech industry. Their coverage of H-1B has been fair, but their editorial position has always been pro-H-1B.”

Matloff’s views are hardly dispositive – though I have always found him to be scrupulously honest. What could not be clearer, however, is that the Mercury News could reinforce its claims to objectivity by posting the video. With every passing day that it fails, the case for questioning its motives can only grow.

In the last 20 to 30 years, the Mercury has grown in journalistic stature in direct proportion to the rise of the Silicon Valley, and must now be regarded as one of the top newspapers in the nation. As such, I had naively assumed they would make the video available publicly, which as noted, would cost them nothing in time, effort or money. Quite a disappointment, I’d say.

Lion’s Den III: VOA Silicon Valley Debate with Rep. Khanna

I’ve twice written before about being invited into “the lion’s den” to talk about H-1B. In the first case, the meeting bizarrely turned out to be a planning session for Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us immigration lobbying group, and the second was the annual meeting of the Deans’ Council of the American Society for Engineering Education. Perhaps not surprisingly, I was treated with friendship and respect by FWD.us and hostilely by the deans.

Last week I was invited to speak as a panel discussant on H-1B in the newly-opened Silicon Valley bureau of Voice of America, with the venue being the San Francisco office of the VC firm 500 Startups. My main debate opponent was Rep. Ro Khanna, newly elected to Congress last year in a Silicon Valley district. He has been described, accurately, as “the tech community’s chosen candidate.” Of course, that means he supports the “Intels Good, Infosyses Bad” view, contending that the firms that hire foreign students from U.S. university campuses are using the program responsibly while the Indian outsourcing firms abuse it, quite counter to my view that all the firms are culpable.

Also on the panel was Kamran Elahian, but he said very little specifically on H-1B, focusing instead on his views as an immigrant tech entrepreneur. 

The host of the event was Michelle Quinn, the new bureau chief. Also present were Amanda Bennett, the national VOA director, and Sandy Sugiwara, the national deputy director. Bennett, by the way is an especially highly prominent journalist, e.g. winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a captivating TED speaker. Jim Fry, managing editor was there too. I enjoyed chatting with them before and after the event, all highly impressive people. Reporter Chu Wu was quite professional and patient in interviewing me in Chinese after the event.

This forum was unique!  To my knowledge — based on the nearly 25 years I’ve been writing about H-1B — this is the ONLY public debate between a politician and a researcher on the topic that has ever been held. All three panelists made points that are not often covered. The entire debate was videorecorded, and I am hoping it will be made public. (More on this later.)

These days, many of those with immigrant connections use the word immigrant as a showstopper. This can be very effective with white liberal audiences — I say that as a white liberal myself, thus not pejoratively — especially if the debate opponent will be portrayed as anti-immigrant or worse. Khanna clearly came into the debate assuming that I was a Trump supporter (he did praise me when I later mentioned that I voted for Bernie as a write-in, but it clearly startled him).

So when Khanna and Elahian, in their opening remarks, emphasized their immigrant connections (one  the son of immigrants, the other an immigrant himself), I felt compelled to get the conversation back to the real issue, H-1B. I said (here and below, I believe the quotes are rather close to verbatim),

My father was an immigrant, as is my wife. I’ve been living in immigrant households my entire life, with all the trappings — non-English languages, “weird” foods and so on. We speak Cantonese at home as our primary language. So, there is no point in we panelists trying to “out-immigrant” each other. Let’s stay on topic.

Khanna then said, “H-1B has problems, but I strongly oppose Trump’s reform proposal.” I objected, “Wait a minute, Trump doesn’t have a proposal yet.” Khanna responded, “Yes, he does. Look at Trump’s executive order on the topic,” but I said, “No, not true. All the executive order does is direct DOJ to merely study the problem, no proposal yet.” He was then silent.

I was very disappointed. Clearly, Khanna had not done his homework, with the result that he was “strongly opposed” to a proposal that didn’t exist. I felt that this reduced the potential to have a serious discussion.

The irony here, though, is that Trump’s repeatedly-stated position during the election campaign, going back to 2015, is exactly that of Khanna’s: they both contend that the hiring of foreign students is the “good” use of H-1B. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to say this, partly because I was a bit stunned by Khanna’s gaffe on the Trump executive order. (I did make this point during the Chinese interview after the debate; see below.)

It was also disappointing that Khanna liked to argue by setting up strawmen. He talked several times of “those who advocate disbanding the H-1B program,” but no one has taken this stance, among researchers, immigration reform groups and so on.

At several points in the debate, Khanna emphasized his support for the Durbin/Grassley H-1B reform bill. I replied that although I supported previous versions of the bill (and in fact used to be consulted by Grassley’s main staffer), I am opposed to the current bill. He didn’t ask me why, and again, due to the flow of the conversation, I never had a chance to explain. (See my blog post on this.)

In any event, this led to another Khanna gaffe, in which he claimed “Durbin-Grassley would have passed long ago, but the anti-immigrant groups opposed it.” What Khanna didn’t know is that those groups support Durbin-Grassley. And calling them “anti-immigrant” is dirty pool in my view, definitely not accurate.

It would be easy to dismiss Khanna’s errors by saying that he ought to spend a little less time listening to tech CEOs (he greeted many of the entrepreneurs at the event warmly, by name) and more time listening to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are being harmed by the H-1B program. But my impression is that it is much more than that, an ideological issue.

This became apparent when I brought up my EPI paper, in which I showed that the foreign students who become H-1B are actually somewhat weaker on average than their American peers. Khanna was profoundly disturbed by my saying this. This really took me aback, as he started making connections with Charles Murray. I told him this was offensive, and he said he wasn’t saying that I shared Murray’s views but that my research would be used by the Murray-ites. He went on at some length on this, referring to my research as “based on only a small amount of data” — again, the fact that he hadn’t even heard of my research until a few seconds earlier didn’t stop him from belittling it — and that it was unethical and dangerous for me to make this work public. I replied,

You’re distorting and flipping over what I said. The fact that the former foreign students are somewhat weaker could be due to lots of things. Maybe the best Chinese and Indian students do not come to the U.S. But in any case this is serious research, building on top of previous work by well-known economists, such as at the University of Michigan and Rutgers. EPI is a think tank allied with the Democratic Party, founded by people such as Robert Reich. The foreign workers are displacing U.S. workers, and if in addition they are of lower quality, this is a major national interest question.

Khanna’s view of my work as somehow being akin to eugenics is ironic, because I have long sided firmly with Nurture in the Nature vs. Nurture debate. I don’t believe genetics plays a big role in intelligence. But part of Nurture is cultural, and I do believe that the rote memory style of education in East Asia does produce, on average, less creative, less insightful people. This is hardly a revolutionary notion; every single East Asian government — China, Japan, Korea — has fretted about this, and tried to remedy it. I mentioned that I have strongly advocated facilitating the immigration of “the best and the brightest” (some of whom are from East Asia). But as Khanna was already visibly upset by the topic, I chose not to pursue it further.

Unfortunately, he was just as upset when I brought up an incident with Google about which I’ve written before. A few years ago, about a dozen of us researchers visited Google, and met with a senior engineering manager and an HR person. (The latter, by the way, was a former engineer herself, now working in HR to find good project placements for new hires.) During the course of the meeting, the Googlers volunteered the information that Google prefers to hire foreign students over Americans of the same quality, because the lengthy green card process renders the foreigners immobile — they don’t dare jump to another employer, as it would require starting the immigration process all over again. Google told us that they can’t keep the Americans from leaving (they had unsuccessfully tried doling out stock options slowly over time), but that the foreign workers are stuck.

I mentioned this to make the point that the “Intels” abuse the foreign worker programs too. (The “Infosyses” only rarely sponsor workers for green cards.) I pointed out that the abuse of this type was discussed in the 2001 NRC study, commissioned by Congress, and has been the subject of complaints by Immigration Voice, a lobbying organization of foreign workers waiting for green cards. I should have added the Web page of David Swaim, an immigration attorney who design Texas Instruments’ immigration policy and now is in private practice. On that Web site, Swaim openly urges employers to give hiring preference to foreign students over Americans, in order to exploit their immobility.

Khanna reacted quite sharply to this, his voice rising. “This is a very serious charge! You have no proof! Who at Google said this? What are their names?” I replied that I had stated this publicly before without objection from Google, and then said, “I’ll give you the name of the HR person, who by the way is now at Facebook. You should call Google.” But of course he did not take me up on the offer.

I must interject here that this was definitely not political posturing on Khanna’s part. He was genuinely disturbed by my EPI study, which offended his egalitarian ethos (which I share), and both the study and the Google incident seemed to contradict the very core of his belief in the glories of the Silicon Valley. I too think the Valley is pretty cool, but it does have warts, as Judge Lucy Koh has found. (I think Judge Koh is pretty cool too.)

Elahian spoke mainly about his experience as an immigrant, including one very touching story about the first exam he took as  a college student in the U.S. He had outscored every other student, by such a wide margin that the professor gave him an F, on the grounds that he must have cheated, adding that “All you foreign students cheat.” I responded:

I was quite touched by Kamran’s story of being unjustly accused of cheating, and the professor’s claim that all the foreign students cheat. But that is exactly the subtext of the scapegoating of the Indian outsourcing firms. The claim made by the industry lobbyists that the Intels use H-1B responsibly while the Infosyses abuse it carries the subtle message that “Only the Indians would cheat.”

Surprisingly, I didn’t get much pushback from the audience during the debate. The one hostile question was rather bizarre — coming from the cameraperson! There was a woman at the back of the room filming the event. During the Q&A, she raised her hand, waving it vigorously. A bit odd for a camera operator to ask a question, but of course that’s fine. She said, “U.S. kids do terribly in international test scores in math and science, so don’t we need H-1Bs?” I think she also meant it as refuting my EPI study. In reply, I first noted, “Educators have criticized those scores, as there are issues of whether a nation includes its lower class,” and in response the cameraperson made a face, disgusted at my comment. I then said, “The same companies that cite those test scores as a reason to hire H-1Bs are busy laying off lots of Americans who had been great at math and science when they were kids” — at which she made a face again. 🙂 I have written on this topic of the test scores before.

I had thought that this cameraperson worked for VOA, but it turns out that she is from the San Jose Mercury News/Bay Area News Group. I am hoping that the Merc will put the video of the debate online. (Update, June 8: My contact at the paper replied that “…it looks like the video was essentially scrapped as a standalone report, but there’s apparently a possibility that parts of it will be used in coverage of Rep. Khanna. Not sure the reason(s) for this…”)

After the event, I was interviewed in Chinese by VOA reporter Chu Wu. Though I do speak Cantonese daily, my Mandarin is weak. I expressed to Wu my concern that I might not understand some of her questions. In fact, VOA Director Bennett, a former WSJ Beijing bureau chief, speaks much better Chinese than I do. But it went fairly well. For you Chinese speakers out there, you can view the entire interview, about 20 minutes in length online.

All in all, quite a stimulating event.

                             

Fascinating Article Showing Exploitation of Foreign Students

Some years ago, I quoted a university dean who was amazingly frank on why academia loves foreign graduate students (Computerworld, Feb. 28, 2005, emphasis added):

Most of the students enrolled in the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s graduate program are foreign nationals. The Newark-based school has so far received 208 applications for admission in computer science master’s degree programs next year, with about 165 of those applications from foreign students, said Stephen Seideman, dean of the school’s college of computing science. The foreign students “will do everything they can to stay here,” he said.

Anyone who has been an academic or a grad student knows this, but what was amazing is that the dean would “speak out of school” like that. But that is nothing compared to the comments in an ASEE Prism article by Beryl Benderly whom some of you may know of through her excellent work at Science Careers magazine.

The article, though mainly on Georgia Tech’s use of online instruction (on which, by the way, I’m a skeptic), there are some fascinating quotes that made Dean Seideman’s remarks look tame. Again, I use the word fascinating here not because the content is surprising, but rather because the man quoted is speaking so…well, loosely (emphasis added):

Nearly three quarters of the online students are Americans, with 26 percent international. In the much smaller on-campus program, 87 percent of students hail from overseas, most from India and China.

The divergence may reflect differences in motivations. For international students who “pay a huge amount” (over $30,000 for out-of-state tuition plus living expenses) to come to Atlanta, the “number-one goal is not the master’s degree, [but to] get into the U.S.,” Galil explains, noting that student visas are not granted for online programs. “If they could get in [otherwise], not all of them would pursue a master’s.” Studying in America has long been a key route into the U.S. labor market, particularly in the information technology fields, for foreign nationals, who can “explore opportunities” through Optional Practical Training and other programs, writes University of Michigan economist John Bound in a 2014 National Bureau of Economic Research paper. Indeed, nearly three quarters of Silicon Valley’s computer and math workers between the ages of 25 and 44 are foreign born.

(While it is possible to get an H-1B work visa with just a bachelor’s, for various reasons it is much easier with a graduate degree.)

The industry lobbyists have always made a big point of the fact a large proportion of U.S. tech graduate programs consist of foreign students, with the latter group earning about 50% of the doctorates and 30% of the master’s degrees. I’ve explained before that this is actually a consequence of the H-1B visa, which has impeded wage growth at the graduate level (more on this below). But my point here is that it is remarkable that the figure is near 90% at Georgia Tech, and there are other similar schools, such as Cal State East Bay, where not only are 90% of the master’s students foreign, but also are reportedly of very low quality. I have also noted other master’s programs that seem to have been created for foreign students.

But there is something much deeper in the GA Tech dean’s statement. The industry has implied that there is “something wrong” with American students for stopping at a bachelor’s degree rather than pursuing a master’s or even a PhD. For instance, Texas Instruments, in 2011 testimony to Congress in support of raising the H-1B cap, made such an argument. Here is how I reported it:

Yet, without fully realizing it, Texas Instruments V.P. for HR Darla Whitaker has now essentially admitted that all that “Johnnie Can’t Do Math” stuff was just slick PR. At the October 5 the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement hearing titled, “STEM the Tide: Should America Try to Prevent an Exodus of Foreign Graduates of U.S. Universities with Advanced Science Degrees?”, Ms. Whitaker stated that TI has plenty of engineering applicants with Bachelor’s degrees, and thus does not hire foreign workers at that level. She stated TI does hire H-1Bs, and sponsors them for green cards, at the Master’s and PhD levels, where she says there is a shortage. This naturally led one of the congresspeople on the committee to ask Whitaker, why don’t the American engineering students go on to grad school? She replied that she supposed that the American students were anxious to get out and start making money.

The fact is that for most tech jobs, one does not need a master’s degree. (As we all know, Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, Ellison etc. never even completed a bachelor’s.) So the American students are acting quite rationally in foregoing grad study — and as Dean Galil explains so vividly above, the foreign students would forego grad study too if they could get work permits and green cards. In other words, there is “nothing wrong” with either group; both are acting in a manner consistent with the settings they deal with. But in the case of graduate study and foreign students, that manner is a consequence of U.S. immigration policy. Again, no surprise to people involved, such as myself, but quite startling to see the dean say it publicly.

Many of you will recall my frequent citing of the 1989 NSF internal memo that called for reducing wages at the grad degree level by bringing in a lot of foreign students. The memo also pointed out that the resulting stagnant wages would drive many of the domestic students away from graduate study. That is what has happened since then, and the comments by TI, Dean Galil, Dean Seideman and so on all converge in that context. In other words, the system was designed so that graduate degrees in tech would eventually become intended largely for foreign students, benefiting the industry with young, cheap labor and benefiting academia with workers who “will do everything to stay here.”

Since the foreign students are young, this then becomes the basis for the core role of H-1B, which is to enable employers to avoid hiring expensive older American workers. This came up in an ironic, “What goes around comes around” way in a 2010 CNN report. There, a Georgia Tech student, Christine Liu, noted that her Chinese-immigrant father could not get engineering work, because employers preferred to hire the young new Georgia Tech grads.

By the way, ASEE is the same organization that invited me to their annual deans council meeting to present regarding H-1B in February 2016.