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.