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.



10 thoughts on “H-1B Is Not a Gender Issue

  1. Your university is generating a large number of statisticians

    https://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_110.htm reports an average annual new and replacement need of 4,400 per year through 2026.

    The NCES data is also quite interesting when compared to the BLS data. Unfortunately, there is not a direct comparison possible due to differences in the composition of the tables.


  2. Women are choosing careers other than IT and engineering because they are “smarter” than men. Nearly 49 years ago, I was one of 2 women engineering/CS graduates. I dealt with discrimination both in high school when I kept being directed to the secretarial and home ec classes when I was enrolled in drafting and academic electronics. I was told in grad school by the professor in my primary area of interest that women could not be engineers.

    Unlike women in STEM today, my goal was not to be different but to be accepted as one of the group for my contributions. I do not support diversity quotas whether they are based on gender or ethnicity. I appreciated supervisors who understood that I had to pick up my children before after school care closed at 6 but would be back after putting them to bed. There were many Saturdays when we stopped at the office and they and DH sat in the lobby while I took care of a few details on a project.But the same was true for the men I worked with in similar situations. Actually, my coworkers who had the hardest time juggling responsibilities were single fathers with custody of their children.

    My 12 year old granddaughter has wanted to be an engineer for several years; she prefers trains to dolls, building robots to ballet, and math and science to any other classes. I am encouraging her to look at “STEM light fields” like pharmacy, optometry, physical therapy, etc. rather than engineering and CS. I do this because I see a bleak future in hard STEM in general and because there are more secure part time opportunities in fields other than engineering and IT.

    I believe that there are a larger number of women international students in STEM fields because it is known to be the way to immigrate to the US if you do not qualify for family reunification. A PhD in a STEM field is the fastest way to a green card.

    I also found it quite interesting years ago that in some countries engineers are held in higher regard than physicians. In the US, the physicians’ groups have limited the number of individuals entering the profession while NSF deliberately expanded the number of PhDs in STEM to decrease the salaries and costs to companies.


    • I believe that there are a larger number of women international students in STEM fields because it is known to be the way to immigrate to the US if you do not qualify for family reunification”: Correct. Just as the reason for the decline in female interest in CS is (I believe) largely economic, the reason for female foreign students to gravitate to CS is likewise economic.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Would it free up more jobs for Americans?”

    The Issa bill claims to eliminate the Masters Degree exemption. This “H-1B Math” would free up 20,000 jobs for Americans. Unfortunately, the minimum wage for the guest worker is indexed to inflation every 3 years instead of every year.


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