Expand the Green Card Lottery, Not Eliminate It

On Friday, I (more or less) endorsed Pres. Trump’s new immigration reform proposal. It would, according to reports, offer a much more generous amnesty for the “dreamers” than has been proposed by the Democrats, and would restrict family-based immigration to the nuclear family. It would also end the so-called visa lottery, under green cards are granted at random to people who don’t have the family or employment connections required of mainstream immigration categories. (I don’t think we need a Wall, and prefer a strong E-Verify program, but I won’t address that here.)

My emphasis in this post will be on the lottery, which I actually believe should be expanded, not eliminated. To explain that, though, I must review what I have been saying (for 21 years!) about immigration rights for the extended family, meaning sponsoring one’s (typically retirement age) parents and adult siblings for immigration.

The term chain migration has been discussed enough in recent months that I need not define it here. The point is that by making skillful use of the parent and sibling provisions in the law, together with the fact that if A is granted a green card then his/her spouse gets one too, immigrant hopefuls often assemble long chains in which the first link has no connection whatsoever to the later ones. This is an abuse, contrary to the American spirit.

And in spite of the protestations by Democrats these days that ending chain migration is “anti-family,” the fact is that in the last 10 years there has been strong support in BOTH parties for ending it. Contrary to the efforts by some to paint Trump as an ogre for proposing an end to chain migration, the liberal democracies Canada and Australia don’t allow it either.

Among other reasons for its policy, Canada in particular wanted to remedy the huge expense to the government of providing for the immigration of elderly parents. In the U.S., this means SSI cash, Medicare health benefits, senior housing and so on. I recall seeing a statistic somewhere that 80% of the medical expenses one incurs in one’s lifetime come in the final two years of life. All this for people who have never worked a day in their life in the U.S.

The term “chain migration,” long established in bipartisan discussions of immigration policy, has become a dirty word in some circles of late. The preferred term, family reunification, is misleading. After all, the sponsoring immigrant voluntarily disunified with his/her family by coming here in the first place. “Reunification” remedies a problem of their own making.

Nevertheless, I strongly oppose replacing the extended-family immigration categories by a points-based system like those of Canada and Australia, as the RAISE Act would do. Again, I philosophically am opposed to any elitist system.

Note carefully, by the way, that the impact of RAISE would work out eventually to a situation in which the vast majority of those admitted to the country would be those whose presence in the current labor pool I regard to be so injurious to U.S. citizens and permanent residents in STEM fields — international students of mediocre quality at American universities. Mind you, I think immigration policy should be extremely welcoming to the genuine Best and Brightest (more on this below), but the vast majority of foreign grad students in STEM are actually somewhat weaker than their American counterparts; coupled with the demonstrable displacement effects, this is a grave problem.

My solution would be to modify RAISE in a more diverse, less elitist manner. A rough, back-of-the-envelope version would be as follows: Minimum criteria would be established, say

  • Graduation from high school (a big deal in much of the Third World).
  • Serviceable level of English, say U.S. primary school level.
  • Either a university degree OR evidence of having run a business (possibly small, family-based) successful enough to support a family.

These criteria would apply to the applicant, while the English criterion would apply to the spouse, if any. Green cards would then be granted at random to this applicant pool, instead of granting cards in the order of point totals.

I would continue the current National Interest Waiver program, under which exceptionally talented individuals can apply on their own for green cards. Actually, I have proposed broadening its scope. I would end the EB-series green cards, including EB-1. As to H-1B, I would subject it to very stringent conditions, especially to address its current role in fueling the rampant age discrimination in the tech fields, and would limit it to three years. Optional Practical Training would either have its original 12-month limitation restored, or would be eliminated outright.



Today’s Trump Immigration Proposal

The writings of Mark Krikorian are always interesting, thoughtful and measured, so I read with interest his commentary,  The Art of the Choke, on the new immigration proposal from the White House. Though the essay is well-reasoned, I disagree. Unlike Mark’s sarcastic allusion to Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, I regard the proposal as potentially an excellent example of good deal making.

Mark’s objections seem to be that (a) the proposal would give amnesty — er, I mean a path to citizenship 🙂 — to many more unauthorized immigrations than just the DACAers, and (b) while the proposal would stop chain migration it would grandfather those already in the queue. Processing the latter would not complete “until after President Kamala Harris’s successor takes office,” as Mark cleverly puts it.

Concerning (b), I have always been a firm believer in making grandfather exceptions to new policy. It is a matter of keeping one’s word (not to mention avoiding lawsuits), and one must look at  long term benefit. Moreover, some of the new policy would have effect much sooner than the Krikorian time horizon, especially in terms of the immigration of parents of U.S. citizens, one of the most costly of current immigration policies. (I’m assuming the bill would allow the parents long-term visitor visas, as in Canada, and as with the RAISE Act, a bill endorsed by the White House.)

Regarding (a), it seems to me that this could turn out to be a brilliant move, “an offer the Democrats can’t refuse.” If they were to refuse it, and the deal ultimately cut were to include only the DACAers, the Latino activists would be livid — and with long memories. No, this is one they need to accept, quickly before you-know-who changes his mind.

Maybe a “bridges and tunnels” guy can run the country after all.

Underpayment of H-1Bs Is Fact, Not Anecdote

I was disturbed to read the following passage in Friday’s Wall Street Journal:

One complaint critics have against the program is that foreign employees allegedly work for less pay, pulling down American wages.

That may be true in some instances—the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, says it has anecdotal evidence of this—but when they apply for the visas, employers agree to pay foreign employees the same wage as other workers with similar qualifications or the prevailing wage for the occupation, whichever is higher.

This is a settled issue, folks. H-1Bs are indeed cheaper. It’s not just anecdotal, but demonstrated in hard data. I’ll refer the hard core policy wonks among you to my Migration Letters paper for extensive details, but here is a quick excerpt:

An employer survey conducted by the GAO (GAO, 2003) found that
some employers readily admitted to paying H-1Bs less than comparable
Americans, but noted that they were nevertheless paying the legally required wage, thereby illustrating that the latter is indeed below the market wage.

No fancy statistical methodology here, just the stark admission of employers that the pay their-H-1Bs less than comparable Americans. This echoes a previous employer survey, commissioned by Congress (though of course ignored by the latter), that found

…H-1B workers in jobs requiring lower levels of IT skill received lower wages, less senior job titles, smaller signing bonuses, and smaller pay and compensation increases than would be typical for the work they actually did.

So two employer surveys, one by the government and the other commissioned by the government, had employers actually ADMITTING to underpaying their H-1Bs. And the GAO quote shows that the employers admit that the prevailing wage, the legal wage floor for H-1Bs, is a joke. The data in the paper shows the underpayment statistically as well.

The above WSJ passage notes that the law requires that an employer pay an H-1B the higher of the prevailing wage and the actual wage, the latter legal term meaning the wage paid to Americans doing the same work at the firm. Requiring employers to pay at least the actual wage would seem to remedy the problem that the prevailing wage is a lowball, below-market figure. But of course the actual wage is just as loophole-riddled as the prevailing wage; again, see the paper for details. And at any rate, the data I present in the paper show that the vast majority of the H-1Bs are paid the prevailing wage, so the issue of the actual wage is moot.

“Anecdotal”? Read the paper, which establishes the underpayment six ways to Sunday.

And on top of all this is the issue that the law doesn’t even pretend to address: Employers hire younger, thus  CHEAPER H-1Bs in lieu of the older, thus more expensive Americans.

The H-4 Visa for H-1B Spouses

As many of you know, the Obama administration issued an executive order decreeing that spouses of some H-1B visa holders be granted work permission in the U.S. The Trump administration has announced plans to reverse that order.

To me, the solution is exceedingly simple: Allow the spouses to work, but count them towards the yearly H-1B cap. This would deal with the humanity issue — many spouses are highly educated and feel frustrated by their lack of ability to do so — but would also recognize the reality that many of these spouses take jobs that qualified and interested Americans would fill.

In other words, I do indeed sympathize with the H-1B spouses — except for this one quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle. The article notes,

For immigrant families in the Bay Area, where housing is rarely affordable on a single salary, the work permit has helped them make ends meet.

Sivarajan, who worked for several years in India before coming to the U.S., said she would have never bought a bigger house in Fremont a few years ago if she knew she could lose her right to work.

I find this highly offensive, typical of the unwarranted sense of entitlement common among the H-1Bs (“We are contributing so much to the U.S.”). Ms. Sivarajan buys her dream house, due to benefiting from a legally questionable executive order, and now publicly expresses outrage that she may no longer be able to afford it? What is the Hindi word for chutzpah?!

The fact is that the REASON Bay Area real estate is so expensive is that Silicon Valley employers have hired so many foreign workers, swelling the pool of home buyers. Sivarajan is the CAUSE of the very problem she is decrying.

Look, I have family and friends in Fremont who are benefiting from the steep rise in housing prices, since they bought their properties long ago. Good for them, but the fact is that many Americans — native and immigrant alike — are frozen OUT of the real estate market as a result of tech employers’ love of cheap, indentured labor.

I hope the Trump people don’t cave on this one.

Who Is a Racist, Part II

In my post earlier today, I wrote,

I have a Chinese-American friend..in devoted public service, mostly in nonprofit community organizations, all his life. Let’s call him Jim. He is quite liberal, proud to call himself a progressive…

One day about 10 years ago I was interviewing Jim for an op-ed I was writing on immigration. At one point he said, “We [the U.S.] could take a lot more Chinese immigrants” — as opposed to immigrants that we could not afford more of, from,uh, well who did he mean if not Mexico?…

So, is Jim, the heartfelt, self-sacrificing, tireless advocate of ALL people of color, a racist?

Well, this has an interesting connection to an article in today’s Washington Post (noted by Rich Lowry), which reports (emphasis added),

[Trump] also objected that Democratic proposals to adjust the visa lottery and federal policy for immigrants with temporary protected status were going to drive more people from countries he deemed undesirable into the United States instead of attracting immigrants from places like Norway and Asia, people familiar with the meeting said.

Haven’t the press and the Democratic politicians been haranguing us the last few days about Trump’s having chosen a very white-populated country like Norway to compare to Haiti and Africa? If the Post‘s account is to be believed, all that rhetoric was misleading and highly irresponsible.

I’ve been actively fighting racism ever since I was a teenager. But Jim is not a racist, and in spite of numerous “examples” offered by the press and the Democrats during the last 18 months “proving” that Trump is a racist, I see no evidence of that, and resent the press trying to indoctrinate the populace. As I wrote in June 2016,

I’m beginning to think that all that strife within and between parties is creating something of a vacuum into which the press is inserting itself in rather insidious ways. Take the current controversy regarding Trump and Judge Curiel. Putting aside the point that Trump ought to have enough sense to know that one doesn’t publicly criticize a judge under whom one has a case pending, why is the press making such a big deal over Trump’s suggestion that Curiel, a Latino, may be biased against Trump due to the latter’s remarks about illegal immigration from Mexico? Isn’t this the same press that has been constantly telling us that Latinos won’t vote for Trump, exactly for that reason? Which is it? The press can’t have it both ways.

Make no mistake, Trump is an impetuous, loud-mouthed loose cannon. I’ve said so here on numerous occasions. But fair is fair, and the gridlock in DC is worse than ever. Doesn’t anyone care?

Quick, Who Is a Racist?

A few years ago, I arrived early on the first day of the term to my classroom, and was organizing my papers while waiting for the class to start. As usual, about 2/3 of the students were Asian-American (NOT Asian foreign students). But then in walked three chirpy, blonde female students. They could have been right out of Central Casting for some sorority movie. But one of the Asian students thought they looked out of place, and said to them, “Are you sure you’re in the right room? This is a computer science class.” Turned out that they had indeed wandered into the wrong room. They thanked the student and left.

So was that Asian-American CS student a racist, for his stereotyping blonde white sorority women as English or psych majors?

I of course am writing here about President Trump’s alleged profanity in describing African nations. If I were forced to guess, I’d say he probably made the remark. But so what? Should we be shocked that Donald Trump uses profanity? Press reports quoted a source as saying the entire conversation was “salty,” on the part of everyone present. Or should we be shocked that Trump was blunt in (what he thought was) a private setting? Hey, he’s blunt even in public. 🙂

What would shock me would be if any of Trump’s accusers don’t share his view that on the whole immigrants from some countries contribute more to the U.S. national interest than from others. The difference, as usual, is that Trump actually voiced that view (and again, in a context in which he had a reasonable expectation of privacy).

I have a Chinese-American friend, not a close one but one whom I am proud to know. He has been in devoted public service, mostly in nonprofit community organizations, all his life. Let’s call him Jim. He is quite liberal, proud to call himself a progressive, and probably would not resent being called a leftist. Jim has spent most of his career in San Francisco, and would be considered liberal even in that progressive haven.

One day about 10 years ago I was interviewing Jim for an op-ed I was writing on immigration. At one point he said, “We [the U.S.] could take a lot more Chinese immigrants” — as opposed to immigrants that we could not afford more of, from,uh, well who did he mean if not Mexico? In other words, Trump’s Norway is Jim’s China.

So, is Jim, the heartfelt, self-sacrificing, tireless advocate of ALL people of color, a racist?

It sickens me to see how Senator Durbin is seizing upon an incident of no importance for crass political gain. Frankly, I doubt that he cares any more about the DACANs than does some white supremacist. It’s all about knocking down the other side, especially when the referee isn’t looking, and getting more — as Jay Leno once put it — “undocumented Democrats.” Same for the CNN crowd, I regret to say.

Kirstjen Nielsen in 2020.


Final Nail in the Coffin for the RAISE Act (for me)

The RAISE Act, now under consideration in the Senate, would radically change traditional U.S. immigration policy, moving it in the direction of points-based systems used in Canada and Australia. It has been endorsed by (and perhaps partly written by) the Trump White House, and is being promoted by the major immigration reform, i.e. restrictionist, organizations.

In my post yesterday, I debunked some of the current myths about chain migration, one of the major problems RAISE aims to solve. As I have said ever since the bill was first introduced, I agree that chain migration should be ended, but RAISE is too elitist for my taste.

Well, taste is one thing, but loss of job opportunities is quite another. America’s tech workers, already victimized by immigration policy, would be harmed even more by RAISE, as it would redistribute green card allocation from the largely low-skilled to the high-skilled, thus providing even more competition at the latter level. While it might seem desirable to bring in more techies, we have a surplus as it is. And even worse, extra points would be given to younger workers who wish to immigrate, exacerbating the rampant age discrimination in the industry.

The other day, I wrote that the Issa and Durbin-Grassley bills to reform H-1B would have the effect of encouraging Congress to enact some kind of Staple a Green Card to Their Diplomas legislation, under which foreign STEM students at U.S. universities would be granted a fast track green card. This would be truly disastrous, dwarfing any current problem with H-1B etc. I stated,

And Congress, by enacting either Issa or D-G, would be endorsing the Intels Good, Infosyses Bad notion. If you believe in IGIB, Staple then makes perfect sense, a logical followup to Issa/D-G.

Note that this same dynamic would occur with RAISE. The Intels don’t want to hire a 40-year engineer who immigrates to the U.S. under RAISE. So if RAISE starts to gain traction on the Hill, the Intels will say, “Fine, we support that, but we need you to fold Staple into the bill.”

Again, all of this would lead to a greatly expanded young tech labor pool. Whether the expansion consists of green card holders or not is really irrelevant.

Bottom line: Issa, D-G and RAISE would make things worse for American tech workers. Not better, not neutral, but WORSE. This may be an “inconvenient truth” for the immigration reform organizations, but that is the reality.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find that RAISE coauthor Sen. Perdue is way ahead of me! He won’t have to be pushed by the industry to enact Staple; he already believes in it. Here is what he said in a recent CIS panel:

…look, why wouldn’t America be the brain sink? You know, I’ve never believed that innovation has an upper limit, and innovation, capital formation and the rule of law is what created the economic miracle we’ve all enjoyed here in the United States since 1946. So, you know, I just – I’m of a mind that right now what we’re doing is we’re educating a lot of young people around the world coming to our colleges and universities…

The problem is we’re educating these young people, giving them diplomas, in many cases putting them on scholarships, and then not giving them a green card…

So I’m of an opinion that nobody knows what this limit ought to be, what a number should be, but we can – we will find out. But first we’ve got to stop chain migration and go to a merit-based immigration system.

This is standard language that the Staple proponents (including Presidents Obama and Trump) have been using. And note that last passage: Enact RAISE first, then on to Staple.

I wrote yesterday that supporters of chain migration

…numbers are power. China will overtake the U.S. in size of economy (which translates to power in various ways) in a decade or so, NOT because of its economic system — it is still a poor country in per-capita terms — but simply due to the sheer size of its population. So the Council for Foreign Relations [CFR] types want us to “compete” by establishing our own large population [via chain migration]…

Perdue, though wanting to end chain migration, really thinks the same way. I’ve written before that there is a kind of open secret among some in DC that H-1B etc. have the goal of “stealing China’s engineers,” thus really the same geopolitical motivation as the CFR people.

Not only does that throw our own engineers under the bus, but also it has exactly the opposite of the intended effect. Research by myself and others has shown that the foreign engineers are on average weaker than the Americans, not stronger. These policies in effect replace more talented techies by weak ones. This ought to be keeping people on the Hill awake at night. Instead, they are busy promoting policies to make it worse.

To put it bluntly, are China’s engineers worth stealing? Some are absolutely brilliant, and I have always vigorously supported “stealing” those, but most are plodders, casualties of the rote memory educational system/culture in East Asia. The Chinese government itself has been quite worried about this (as have the governments of South Korea, Taiwan and Japan). In an article written by an engineering professor in China (“China’s New Engineering Obstacle,” by Chen Lixin, Prism, pub. by the American Society for Engineering Education, September 1999). Chen warns his nation that the engineers being produced by Chinese universities are not good enough for China to compete in the global high-tech market. Professor Chen says the educational system in China produces students who cannot think independently or creatively, and cannot solve practical problems. He writes that the system “results in the phenomenon of high scores and low ability.” Chinese immigrant/American education dean Yong Zhao has repeatedly expressed the same views.

We in the U.S. are not smarter than the Chinese, nor do we work harder. What we excel in is creativity and deep insight, fostered by our more free-wheeling culture. Why would we want to replace that by people from a nation that bemoans that it lacks that quality? That spate of “innovation” Perdue envisions cannot come very much from a rote-memory culture, and Perdue’s policies would drive out our own innovators in vaious ways.

Unfortunately, the immigration reform groups bought into RAISE without critically questioning it, just as they did with the Intels Good, Infosyses Bad myth.

Everyone should ask this simple question: Do we want to encourage or discourage our bright people into STEM? If the answer is the former, then we should double- and triple-check any proposed policy in terms of its potential impact on that crucial aspect, before headlong endorsing it.

Misconceptions about Chain Migration

Since the term chain migration is a hot topic these days, it’s important to avoid the “fake news” and look at the issue factually. One may feel it’s harmful or beneficial, but the conversation is doomed without the facts. Here are some important points:

  • It’s not a new issue (or a new term). As Mark Krikorian has pointed out, debate about chain migration has been active for decades, even though many in the press are describing it as a new (and by implication evil) idea from President Trump.
  • There has been bipartisan support for curbing chain migration in recent years. Both major parties have recognized that there is neither a moral benefit nor a national interest in our having a chain migration policy. Again, it’s not some harebrained idea dreamed up by Trump in a Twitter frenzy.
  • A typical chain evolves slowly but surely. There have been a number of statements in the press by immigration lawyers and immigrant advocacy groups along the lines of, “Someone who immigrates today can’t, say, bring his nephew with him.” True, but misleading — and stated by people who KNOW they are being misleading.That new immigrant, whom I’ll call John, can naturalize after several years, then sponsor his sister Jane for immigration. That latter process will also take years, but when Jane’s turn comes, she brings along John’s nephew Jack and niece Jill (if under 21) — and Jane’s husband Jim. As we say in computer science, then apply recursion: Jim can later naturalize, then sponsor HIS siblings, etc. After a few links of such a chain, the person in the first link, John, has no relation to later links, has no idea who they even are. The rationale for admitting the first link, John, has no bearing on later links after a certain point.
  • Eliminating chain migration would not disfavor immigration from East Asia. Over the years, the main opposition to repealing the Fourth Preference category (John sponsoring Jane above) has come from Asian groups, chiefly Chinese, who have been especially aggressive in using this provision. Now they are opposing RAISE — and of course calling it anti-Asian prejudice —  saying that they need the Fourth Preference, and that the points that RAISE would give English skills would adversely affect them too. Well, perhaps they’ve never heard of China’s One Child Policy? Immigrants coming from China these days don’t HAVE siblings; there is no Jane. And as I explained before, if English is needed as a requirement for immigration, people in China will happily pick up the language.


[Apparently incorrect passage deleted, Jan. 11. — NM]


You know the old saying by Sen. Dirksen, “A billion here, and billion there, it adds up!” Many of the chains are quite long. Let’s call John in our example above a Link 1 immigrant, first in the chain, with his sister Jane being Link 2, and so on. While I don’t have hard data on this — likely no one does — I am sure that the vast majority of foreign-born people in the U.S. today are at least Link 3, many of them having a link number of much more than 3.

If you then count their descendants, I think even immigrant advocates would not dispute the following fact:

A high portion of U.S. population growth since the 1965 Immigration Act has come from chain migration.

Is that a good thing or a bad one? On the one hand, one can easily argue that the growth has come too fast. The government cannot build a new San Francisco Bay Bridge every year (or every 50 years), and the result is that it is difficult to get across the bridge even late at night. When I drove into LAX a few months ago to pick someone up, it was gridlock at 10 pm. I believe that all the students and staff at my institution, the University of California, Davis, would agree that our campus has grown way too fast; students are having a terrible time trying to get the classes they need. In the drought of the last few years, there were real fears of possible water shortages, this in a state that used to be at the forefront of managing water resources before the population boom. And, I might add, California is at or near the bottom in per pupil education spending and test scores, again counter to what used to be the case before the heavy influx.

All of this argues in favor of the RAISE Act, which is being vigorously promoted by the immigration reform organizations (FAIR, NumbersUSA, CIS). It would end chain migration, and implement a skills-based system. The latter presumably would increase tax revenues and reduce social services spending, solving some of California’s problem, and probably improve K-12 test scores (though exacerbate UC overcrowding).

On the other hand, numbers are power. China will overtake the U.S. in size of economy (which translates to power in various ways)  in a decade or so, NOT because of its economic system — it is still a poor country in per-capita terms — but simply due to the sheer size of its population. So the Council for Foreign Relations types want us to “compete” by establishing our own large population. And I think that argument would resonate with many Americans.

Another argument that appeals to many Americans is the idea of an egalitarian immigrant pool. It may be trite to bring up the Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty, but the concept is part of our culture. As I have said before, I personally support that notion, and thus do not support RAISE. In addition, it would exacerbate the foreign tech worker/age discrimination problem 

That is not to say that I oppose ending chain migration. I do believe we should change policy in that regard. In the above scenario, John should be allowed to bring in his parents, but with special long-term visitor permits, rather than allowing them to naturalize and go on SSI, Medicaid and subsidized senior housing, a rampant problem for the last 20 years. As (permanent) noncitizens, they would not be able to add to the chain. And John would have to give an ironclad guarantee to support his parents, including health care. His sister Jane and her family should be allowed to come too, but with a new type of permanent residency, one that does not lead to naturalization, again meaning they could not extend the chain.

There is a lot of misinformation/disinformation about RAISE too. I won’t bother to rehash that, but I renew my plea for people to keep a skeptical eye on the various arguments you’ll hear — plausible, but seriously misleading. The President’s famous quote, “The press is the enemy of the American people,” is pure Trump in terms of its extreme, unvarnished tone, but he ain’t that far off the mark.

H-1B Math — Your Guide to Proposed Legislation

As discussed in a previous posting, the Issa bill to “reform” the H-1B work visa has passed committee, and is getting a lot of press (mostly non-factual). The Durbin-Grassley bill, introduced in several past Congresses, is said to be coming back soon. In addition, the RAISE Act, which would move green card eligibility to a more skills-based policy, has been endorsed by the White House and is being vigorously promoted by the various immigration reform (i.e. restrictionist) groups. How would U.S. citizen/permanent resident tech professionals fare under these proposals?

I will address this question here. Note that this will not be a detailed, clause-by-clause analysis, but rather a high-level analysis based on what is the only appropriate criterion:

Would the given proposal improve job prospects for Americans?

Anything else is irrelevant, and (inadvertent or deliberate) distraction. As the saying goes, “Keep your eyes on the prize.”

Putting RAISE aside for the moment, let’s consider Issa and D-G. Both of these proposals are designed to redistribute H-1B visas, for which there is a far larger demand than supply, from the “Infosyses” to the “Intels.” Did you catch that key word? Redistribute! Neither bill would reduce the number of visas. As Prof. Ron Hira put it (in a slightly different light), the bill “simply shuffles the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Thus neither bill would improve job prospects for Americans.

Of course, that analysis doesn’t work if you believe that the Intels are angels who are using these programs responsibly. Under that belief, the visas would be used for jobs for which qualified Americans don’t exist, so the foreign workers wouldn’t be hired in lieu of Americans. I’ve presented lots of data demonstrating that this is simply false, and Congress’ own commissioned report, which actually surveyed employers, also showed it to be false. These firms are out to maximize profit, which I have no objection to at all, but it does show that their protestations that “We’d love to hire Americans,  but sadly there are no Americans available” can’t be taken at face value. As one manager at Intel told me,

It’s a matter of what are the mechanisms, how does a hiring manager in Silicon Valley get a hold of resumes? What happens is, you get a lot of H-1B resumes. I had to go out myself, instead of relying on the Personnel Department, to go and advertise at several colleges where I thought I would be able to find some good employees. And lo and behold, I found a very good one at Cal Poly, Pomona.

In other words, Issa and D-G would bring NO CHANGE for American tech workers. Shifting the visas from the Infosyses to the Intels (which actually wouldn’t happen, for reasons I’ve given before, but let’s say the bills succeed in their redistribution goal) would not improve job prospects for U.S. techies. Some would have more jobs open to them, balanced by an equal number of Americans who would now have fewer jobs available. To borrow Ron’s metaphor, different Americans would now have chairs to sit in than before, but the same number would be sitting/standing as before.

But it’s even worse than that, due to the industry’s continuing call for Staple a Green Card to Their Diplomas legislation, under which foreign STEM students at U.S. universities would get a fast track green card, likely with a wait time of only about two years (some currently are waiting 10 years or more); they would work under a new special visa in the interim. The Intels generally sponsor their H-1Bs for green cards, which the Infosyses don’t, so Staple is basically an Intels proposal.

The Intels would push for Staple for the simple reason that, again, they want to expand the young labor pool. As I’ve stated many times, H-1B is fundamentally about age; young workers are cheaper than older workers, and the H-1Bs are young. Expanding the H-1B program itself — note by the way that that is what would happen in effect with that special interim visa — is not enough for the Intels, because they fear that a lot of potential foreign students will stay away from the U.S. due to the 10-year wait for a green card.

And Congress, by enacting either Issa or D-G, would be endorsing the Intels Good, Infosyses Bad notion. If you believe in IGIB, Staple then makes perfect sense, a logical followup to Issa/D-G.

Note that this same dynamic would occur with RAISE. The Intels don’t want to hire a 40-year engineer who immigrates to the U.S. under RAISE. So if RAISE starts to gain traction on the Hill, the Intels will say, “Fine, we support that, but we need you to fold Staple into the bill.”

Again, all of this would lead to a greatly expanded young tech labor pool. Whether the expansion consists of green card holders or not is really irrelevant.

Bottom line: Issa, D-G and RAISE would make things worse for American tech workers. Not better, not neutral, but WORSE. This may be an “inconvenient truth” for the immigration reform organizations, but that is the reality.

H-1B Is Not a Gender Issue

I’ve pointed out for years that the core issue regarding the H-1B work visa is age. There are other important factors — de facto indentured servitude (esp. if the worker is being sponsored for a green card), willingness to work long hours, managers of a given national origin preferring to hire people from that country, and so on — but really the central issue is age. I’ve cited data, employer comments (Microsoft says they have very few jobs for older people) and so on, but you can simply reason it out: Younger workers cost less (not just in salary but also in benefits) than older workers, and most H-1Bs are young. The H-1B program expands the young labor pool, and young H-1B workers are hired in lieu of older Americans. QED. And the fact that young H-1Bs are even cheaper than young Americans is a further bonus for employers.

Thus I was more than startled to see the January 2 blog by David North of CIS, in which North proposes reducing H-1B usage via anti-discrimination requirements. He writes,

Let’s change the dialogue and simultaneously remove thousands of smaller H-1B employers from the arena. Let’s talk about the raw ethnic and gender discrimination, which is part and parcel of the H-1B program. Let’s make this a civil rights issue, the rights of Americans to have American jobs, and of women to have them, too.

My proposal: No employer with more than 100 H-1B employers may secure the H-1B extensions they want (with certain rational exceptions) unless their H-1B work force contains no more than 25 percent of the workers drawn from a single country, and a 40 percent female work force in the H-1B occupations.

I was amazed that North didn’t cite the age issue, which dwarfs the other two. You can be Indian and male — the two groups North believes are favored by H-1B employers — but if you are over 35, most tech employers will shun you. Age is THE central factor.

What particularly surprised me was North’s bringing in the gender issue, claiming that the H-1B population is more male-dominated than that of U.S. workers. As I have said before, I believe exactly the opposite is true. At some point, I will crunch the numbers, but the situation is well illustrated by the Web page of grad students in the UC Davis Statistics Dept. Behold!

Though one can’t tell 100% from names whether someone is a foreign student, it is clear from the above page that MOST OR ALL OF THOSE FEMALE STUDENTS ARE FOREIGN. Indeed, there may be zero American women there. There would be a similarly stark imbalance in my own department, Computer Science. (We have a list of names but no pictures, thus no gender information.)

American women have gotten turned off to tech over the years. Whether that is due to sexism in the industry or, as I believe, due to the lack of long-term viability of a tech career, they are not majoring in tech fields like they used to. Last quarter, in my upper-division CS class of 52 students, there were 3 women. And one of those was a foreign student, out of about 8 or 9 foreign students in the class. So again, the female proportion was better among the foreign students than among the Americans. This is a typical pattern in our courses, and indeed in Silicon Valley.

So for the industry lobbyists who are reading this blog (or at least the ones lobbying for the “Intels”), Mr. North has just handed you a great new talking point: The H-1B program is reducing the tech field’s notorious gender imbalance. Such a deal!

Some years ago, someone who at the time was lobbying on behalf of IEEE-USA told me that a conscious decision had been made to NOT bring up the age issue regarding H-1B,  as it just wouldn’t sell on the Hill. I’m not sure how broad a group had made that decision — this one individual, IEEE-USA or the broader H-1B reform community in DC — but I do know that a person in one of the major immigration reform groups told me that the “Intels Good, Infosyses Bad” concept is really easy to explain, hence their lobbying point of choice. These points may explain why, in these groups’ pushing of IGIB, we rarely hear the main reason the Infosyses can offer cheap labor to Disney, SCE etc.: the H-1Bs are much younger than the Americans they replace.

IEEE-USA is hopeless, a tool of vested pro-foreign-worker interests, but to be fair to the immigration reform groups, I have to concede they have other fish to fry, notably DACA and the RAISE Act. These involve the two Holy Grails of immigration reform people for at least 20 years — reducing illegal immigration and eliminating chain migration. H-1B is not at the forefront for the immigration reform groups’ agendas, just a side issue. That’s understandable, but to take stances on H-1B based on false premises (gender imbalance and IGIB) is just plain wrong, and both will backfire.

The overriding criterion for any H-1B reform proposal must be “Would it free up more jobs for Americans?” In my next post, to be titled “H-1B Math,” I will show why current proposals being considered on the Hill fail that test.