Flight Risks

Many Americans, including me, applauded Pres. Trump’s decision to override a State Dept. ruling to deny an all-girl team from Afghanistan visas to compete in an international robotics competition in the U.S. Sadly, though, the press typically blamed Trump for the visa denials in the first place. As the above-linked article said,

Their case began attracting global attention – and sparked a heated debate over the president’s immigration policies – when their visa applications were rejected. Though Afghanistan is not among the countries included in Trump’s travel ban, critics of the president said the case was demonstrative of the administration’s attempt to restrict Muslims from entering the US.

But the visa denials were apparently due to a long-standing U.S. of not granting entry to those who might choose not to return to their home countries, often going into hiding, sometimes resurfacing to apply for political asylum. When I say “long-standing,” I mean many decades; it’s been one of the core principles under many presidents of both parties. Much as the press loves to blame Trump (often fairly, sometimes not), this was not a Trump policy problem, and as noted, he acted to override the rule.

Well, lo and behold, the rule seems to have some merit, because now the robotics team from Burundi did exactly what the framers of the long-standing visa rule feared — they’ve fled the scene of the competition, apparently with the intention of staying in the U.S. or Canada rather than returning home.

I must confess to admiring the Burundi kids’ daring, but there is the brain drain issue. A lot of effort and funds went into their training, in the hope of improving life in their Third World country. It’s a shame they didn’t feel a responsibility to return. Well, they are kids, though from past history of such things, it’s likely that there were adults egging them on, and assisting them.

Anyway, somewhere in the State Dept. there are people who now feel vindicated on the initial denial of visas to the Afghani girls.

Market Demand for CS Graduates — and for CS Students

Many of you will remember the excellent coverage in Computerworld of the H-1B work visa, principally by writer Pat Thibodeau. He now has an article in the house magazine of IEEE-USA. (Over the years, I have, and continue to be, quite critical of the organization, but the article is very good and IEEE-USA is not the subject of my post here.)

As Thibodeau points out, the yearly production of new computer science (CS) graduates has waxed and waned over the years, in response to the perceived industry demand. Of course, there is a lag, and the freshman who eagerly started CS majors in 1998 encountered one of the worse markets when they graduated in 2002, but the elasticity of supply has been strong, both up and down.

Thibodeau cites several examples of universities in which CS enrollment is up sharply. However, there is more to the story than what meets his reporter’s eye.

Among other things, it is important to keep in mind that “numbers are power” in academia. The larger a department is, the more faculty it is allowed to hire; the more faculty it hires, the more external research funding is brought in, the more visible the department is in the research world, and so on.

In addition to such cynical reasons for expansion of enrollment, there are more altruistic ones. At Stanford, for instance, the CS Dept. embarked on a highly aggressive campaign to raise the enrollment numbers, yes, but they especially focused on drawing in more women. In any event, it was not the case that students suddenly, spontaneously started flocking to CS.

In my own department, CS at UC Davis, our numbers are up even more sharply, but for a different reason. Our campus administration decided a few years ago to greatly expand the size of the student body, both because “numbers are power” in academia and because the administration hopes that the school will qualify as a Hispanic Serving Institution. Whereas an upper-division course in my department would typically have an enrollment of 50 or so in the past, it is now common to see sizes of 150 or more.

So in addition to the obvious question of the level of demand for new CS grads in industry, there is the less obvious point that the CS departments themselves have a demand for CS students, and enrollment trends are multifaceted rather than strictly a function of industry demand for graduates.

Now, what about that industry demand? Thibodeau writes

Salaries for new grads are rising, too, which suggests that demand is real. The Hay Group division of Korn Ferry, an executive search firm, reported in May that salaries for new grads seeking jobs as software developers were $63,036, a 1.5% increase from last year.

Another survey by The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that the average starting salary for computer science graduates this year was expected to reach $65,540, a nearly 7 percent increase.

A key word here is expected, i.e. that 7% number was a projection. The actual number turned out to be 3.9%. And note that the Korn Ferry number, only 1%, is specifically for software developers, which is the main type of job for foreign CS grads.

In other words, once again the data put the lie to industry claims of a tech labor “shortage” and a corresponding “need” for H-1Bs. And as longtime readers of this blog know, I have always held that the main adverse impact of H-1B on U.S. citizens and permanent residents has been on the older workers, age 35 and up.

On an unrelated side note, I was glad to see Thibodeau quote Dartmouth CS professor Hani Farid, whose research involves determining whether images are forged or not. Fascinating stuff, and I urge any Dartmouth CS students to learn from the real master here. But keep in mind that, unlike most real world CS applications, for this one you’ll really need to know some math!

H-1B Almost Always Boils Down to Wages

It is often overlooked in the debate on the H-1B work visa that the program is used to import foreign K-12 teachers. The article in today’s Sacramento Bee is a case in point.

But of course, as the SCTA president points out in the article, the “shortage crisis” is of the school district’s own making. They are simply not offering high enough wages to attract the teachers they need.

In the tech field, one often hears employers say that they hire H-1Bs to work in “hardship posts,” say small towns in the Midwest, or to work in jobs requiring frequent travel. Well, the employer would have to pay an American a premium in such jobs, so even if the employer is paying fair wages for the given region, he is getting a bargain; H-1B is saving him money.

I’ve often mentioned that tech employers like hiring foreign workers because they are essentially immobile, at least if they are being sponsored for a green card. This too can be viewed as a way to save wages, because the employer would have to offer an American more money to keep him from jumping ship to another employer.

The big example of course is hiring younger H-1Bs in lieu of older Americans.

The irony, though, is that the SCTA takes a pro-immigration stance. Taken literally, their position is rather mild — they say for instance, “regardless of immigration status, emergency medical care should not be denied to any person,” which is ALREADY the case — it is clear that these are the kinds of people who view those who call for reduced levels of immigration, e.g. Donald Trump, as ogres. But oh no, when immigration policy affects their own pocketbooks, in this case with the district’s bringing in foreign workers to avoid raising wages, they are adamantly opposed. They’ll be in for quite a shock when they find that comprehensive immigration reform includes a direct and/or indirect expansion of the H-1B program.

But the most militant ethnic activists exhibit no such hypocrisy. Even when the H-1B program harms their own ethnic group, they are quick to shout the magic incantation, “our broken immigration system,” even when an employer does the right thing by hiring U.S. citizens and permanent residents instead of an H-1B. I reported some years ago on a case involving the San Francisco Unified School District. The district had been employing an H-1B Cantonese-speaking counselor but declined to sponsor her for a green card, rightly noting that there were plenty of qualified American Cantonese speakers who could be hired for the $113,000-a-job. Yet the ethnic activists howled.

Many activists on the “restrictionist” side tend to be equally dogmatic and intransigent. It’s sad that we cannot have a national discussion of the immigration issue on a humane but practical basis; sadly, neither the politicians nor the press will allow it.

 

Convergence on “Intels Good, Infosyses Bad” As the Guiding Principle for Legislation

I have quite often mentioned what I call the “Intels Good, Infosyses Bad” argument being made in discussions on the H-1B work visa. As most of you readers know, this refers to the viewpoint in which the (primarily Indian) “rent-a-programmer” firms such as Infosys are considered the main ones abusing the visa, while all the others, which I refer to as the Intels, are viewed as using the program responsibly.

Note that the “Intels” consist of any employer whose H-1Bs are hired primarily from the pool of  foreign-student graduates of U.S. universities, not just large, household-name firms like Intel. In my last post, for instance, I mentioned a small bank with branches in various Bay Area locations.

I have argued, and I believe have demonstrated well, that the Intels and Infosyses are equally culpable. The “Intels Good, Infosyses Bad” (IGIB) argument made by the Intels has had the goal of distracting attention from their own misuse of H-1B. I have also explained many times that the IGIB argument is not only fallacious but also destructive, as it will lead to legislation that will make things WORSE, not better.

Unfortunately, even many critics of H-1B have succumbed to the IGIB story line promoted by the Intels. For instance, a recent blog post by Progressives for Immigration Reform takes this view. I wish they had done their homework on this issue.

Yesterday a colleague mentioned to me that my university would be hosting a talk by UC San Diego professor John Skrentny, concerning the issue of whether the claimed STEM labor shortage is real. I had not heard of him before, but the UCSD affiliation was a bit of a red flag, and sure enough, he too is an IGIB man. I would be surprised if his institute did not have funding from nearby Qualcomm, but there has been such a steady IGIB drumbeat in the press, especially the New York Times, that it is easy to fall into the IGIB trap innocently.

Sadly, Skrentny also buys into the notion that the IGIB argument is valid because the Intels tend to sponsor their H-1Bs for green cards, while the Infosyses do not. While it is true that there is such a difference between the two industry sectors, the fact is that the Intels’ green card sponsorship is actually an additional way to abuse the system. The wait for a green card is many years in duration, during which time the foreign worker is essentially immobile. The Intels love this, and they are arguably worse abusers than the Infosyses.

As Skrenty points out, both major parties support IGIB, and President Trump has supported it consistently for the last two years. As noted, the press is on board too, with the Restrictionist immigration-reform groups largely concurring.

So, if not for the wedge issue of unauthorized immigration getting in the way, we would have seen an IGIB bill pass long ago. Again, I’ve made my case that such legislation will make things worse, not better. If you disagree, please explain, in the reader comments section of this blog.

The EEOC — Where Do They Stand, What Can They Do, on Age Discrimination, H-1B?

Earlier this year, two trial attorneys with the San Francisco office of the federal Equal Opportunity Commission invited me and two others to hold a panel discussion on the H-1B work visa. As one of the EEOC staffers described it,

As you probably already know, the EEOC is the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal laws against workplace discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability or genetic information.  A few of my colleagues and I heard you present on the panel entitled, “Intersection of Employment Discrimination and Immigration” at the OFCCP training last August in Oakland.  We really enjoyed it, and I thought it would be very useful and timely for other colleagues at the EEOC to hear an encore of that panel presentation to gain a deeper understanding of the H-1B visa program and how it impacts both immigrant and non-immigrant tech workers.

The audience would be federal investigators, trial attorneys, managers and staff from our entire District, which includes San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, and Seattle, and we plan to invite the EEOC’s National Diversity in Tech Work Group to participate as well.  We anticipate about 50-70 EEOC employees attending the training. 

 

As a lifelong minority activist, I was honored to be invited. But I was also curious, as I had not heard good things about the EEOC regarding H-1B-related issues. I had been told by one software engineer who brought a discrimination case to EEOC that they had informed him that as a white male, he was not eligible for EEOC protection. My concern was further heightened by several troubling facts: The regional director of EEOC is Bill Tamayo, whom I knew to have radical views on immigration;  one of the EEOC staffers who invited me was formerly with the Asian Law Caucus, a very militant pro-immigration organization; and even the EEOC invitation above suggests that they were more concerned about the impact of the H-1B program on the foreign (incorrectly referred to as immigrant) workers than on the U.S. citizens and permanent residnts.

Yet, they did invite me, and the other two panelists were also strong critics of the H-1B program. As noted in the invitation above, all three of us had presented in a similar panel for the OFCCP division of the Dept. of Labor, so EEOC’s reinviting us was a good sign.

It could be that the UCSF IT layoffs and replacement by foreign workers played a role in the EEOC’s invitation. Many, possibly most, of those laid off were people of color, quite a contrast to the media’s portrayal of American victims of H-1B abuse being white.

It turned out to be an excellent exchange, and the two hosts were quite welcoming.

There were, however, some disturbing moments of Political Correctness that occurred during the Q&A session. EEOC attorneys, having foregone more lucrative careers in the corporate world, tend to be the types who “Want to do good, not well.” I’m of that type too, but in the Bay Area that means radical, not just liberal. It means treating any criticism of any immigration policy as tantamount to racism. Rep. Khanna and the Mercury News reporter in my recent VOA debate epitomize this attitude.

One particular example of this involved a young EEOC staffer who seemed to be of South Asian background and who noted in the Q&A session that a white man in Kansas had recently murdered an Indian-national H-1B, which the EEOC staffer thought was prompted by the criticism of the H-1B program in the last year or two in the press. She asked whether critics of the H-1B program were doing anything to prevent such incidents.

It’s a legitimate concern in general, but there is no evidence in this case of such a thing. On the contrary, the perpetrator had told people after the shooting that he had killed an “Iranian.” Yet she seemed to take notion that the killing was related to H-1B as fact. I replied that people like that don’t read the newspaper, so it is unlikely that this guy had even heard about H-1B.

Another EEOC staffer prefaced her question with a statement that philosophically she supports an Open Borders policy, under which anyone could come to live an work in the U.S., no questions asked. She did concede that H-1B is an abusive policy.

After the EEOC people had asked all their questions, I turned the tables on them. I noted that people in the tech world are afraid to file a discrimination complaint, as they fear it would result in their being blacklisted by employers. Is there anything they can do?

The first staffer to answer this question said, “To file a complaint you need a strong backbone and a strong stomach. Before considering filing, check your backbone and check your stomach,” not very encouraging at all, but frankly stated.

The second EEOCer to answer, though, said that it is possible for the Commission to investigate an employer on its own, without a formal complaint from a worker. I then said that I would definitely give them a suggestion on this.

The employer I had in mind was a local bank, with a number of branches in the Bay Area. I had been told that a technical department in this bank hires Chinese and other foreign students, newly graduated, to the almost total exclusion of American applicants. Checking through LinkedIn for this particular employer and this particular job type, the claim I had heard did indeed seem valid.

So, during the panel discussion I said I would send e-mail with the details on this case. I did so, and was told that my request would be considered. I sent a reminder message a couple of weeks later, and was told they had yet to meet on this issue. However, after I later sent more more query, one of the EEOC people then informed me that it would be illegal for them to comment on any ongoing investigation, or even state whether there is an investigation at all.

That is understandable, but the bottom line is that I do not know if an investigation was launched. Three months have passed, and I would guess that they for various reasons declined to investigate that bank.

I must again thank the EEOC people for inviting me and holding a stimulating panel discussion. But I must say that this incident illustrates the frustration that many Americans have toward their government. Their feeling is that this is no longer the government “of the people, by the people and for the people” that they had been taught about in school, leading to so many votes for both Trump and Sanders last year.