Identity Politics and Foreign Students from China

UC San Diego has invited the Dalai Lama to be its commencement speaker this year, enraging the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at the campus. CSSA is vigorously protesting, raising some interesting issues.

One tack taken by CSSA is rather novel, invoking “diversity” issues. Having the DL speak would be anti-diversity, they argue. CSSA’s Chinese-language statement seems to imply that UCSD’s action has even offended Chinese-Americans, not just Chinese foreign students. So far, though, invoking Diversity has not been the showstopper CSSA expected it to be.

Particularly interesting is this aspect:

In a statement it posted on WeChat, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at UCSD said it contacted the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles for guidance and engaged in negotiations with “relevant departments” at the university.

It is interesting in these days of Mike Flynn and related controversies, with the Trump administration accused by some in terms tantamount to treason, that a foreign government — one that all major presidential candidates exhibited some hostility to in 2016 — has close ties with the largest (by far) group of foreign students in the U.S.

Mind you, for the Chinese foreign students, the Chinese consulate is THEIR consulate, representing THEIR government. They have every right to “seek guidance” from the consulate.

But on the other hand, the vast majority of students from China do stay in the U.S. after graduation and become Americans. This has always been a point of ambiguity, ever since the first wave of Chinese students came to the U.S. in the 1980s.

For example, after the violent protests and quashing of same in Beijing in 1989, the Chinese students demanded that Congress give all Chinese foreign students in the U.S. green cards (though, curiously, not political asylum), on the grounds that the Chinese government was spying on them. Yet a few years later, green cards in hand, the Chinese protest a report on CBS News that claimed China was sending a lot of spies to the U.S., many of them students.

The other irony, of course, is that the Chinese students speak of the DL as “wanting to split our country” as if such a desire were evil, at the same time that in California, where these students are living, there is an active Calexit drive aimed at exactly such a split. Not to mention the fact that in the UK, such drives were on the official ballot, first for Scottish independence and then for Brexit.

UCSD may have underestimated the pressure the Chinese government can bring to bear on this issue. Granted, it didn’t work with Obama, but at a university things can be very different, especially with the large number of students and faculty at UCSD who are originally from China. The university’s chancellor will likely stick to his guns, but this will be interesting to watch.

Hatch Talking Trump into Going Lightly on Tightening Up on H-1B?

Thanks to an alert reader of this blog for bringing to my attention the article, “Hatch Doesn’t Expect Trump to Weaken H-1B Visa Program,” in Morning Consult. Some excerpts:

Hatch believes his friendship with Trump — he was one of the first senators, along with Sessions, to endorse his candidacy — means he can convince the president that the data on H-1B visas shows how the program benefits American workers and the U.S. economy.

“You count on me getting that across to him,” Hatch said during Tuesday’s phone interview. “I think I have already, but I’m going to continue until there’s no question he understands me.”

A Hatch aide said last week’s meeting was one of several since the election, and Hatch said there have been other occasions where he presented Trump with data showing how the H-1B visa program promotes industry growth and creates American jobs by filling the high-tech “skills gap.” He pointed to a 2012 study estimating a shortage of more than 220,000 workers in the science, tech, engineering and math fields by 2018…

“While some have expressed some reservations about the impact of high-skilled immigration on American jobs, I believe we can and will be able to make a convincing case for reform,” said Hatch. “The data is on our side.”

Well of course the data is on their side — they paid for it. That study they are referring to is funded by a pro-H-1B advocacy group. I’m told the group pays researchers $50,000 to write a study favorable to the group.

Immigration Lawyer Concedes That the Intels Underpay Their Foreign Workers

Yesterday an NPR piece featured an interview of Bay Area immigration lawyer Ann Cun. Her tone was refreshingly mild, and she made one big concession:

(host) SIEGEL: One criticism of the H-1B visa program – it’s a criticism against guest worker programs – is that they limit the visa holder to working for one employer. So the employee has no bargaining power over pay or promotions, unlike an American who would be free to go work for someone else. Is that a fair criticism?

CUN: I would say initially not necessarily. When you’re in a very competitive market and you’re negotiating with a particular employer, you have the upper hand to negotiate a compensation package that is consistent with the industry and consistent with your peers. Now, on the other hand, if you’re tied to one employer long term for X number of years and you’re relying on that employer to continue to sponsor you for a visa, I could see over a long term period that power of negotiating can diminish over time.

As I pointed out in a recent post, even at the time of hire, the foreign workers have less negotiating power than do U.S. citizens and permanent residents, because the work visa and possible green card are of huge value to them. Indeed, even a pro-H-1B person quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle article I discussed in my post said a foreign worker might be willing to take $25,000 less in salary in exchange for green card sponsorship.

So Cun is being naive here in saying that starting salaries will be equal for equally-qualified Americans and foreigners. But at least she admits that, once hired, the foreign worker’s negotiating power rapidly goes away.

Unfortunately, most of the report has the “Intels Good, Infosyses Bad” theme that I have been saying is so destructive, and that issue matters here in terms of mobility issue Cun brings up. The fact is that immobility is worse under the Intels.

If the employer is simply sponsoring the worker for the H-1B work visa and not a green card, the worker is fairly mobile. He will not be subject to the H-1B lottery or cap if he moves, and the bureaucracy involved is minimal.

But if the worker is also being sponsored by the employer for a green card, the picture changes dramatically. He now would have to begin the green card process all over again if he were to switch employers. Though he may be able to retain his priority date, he still would have to go through labor certification and so on again.  Even more important, there would be lots of uncertainty involved. What if the new employer reneges on his promise to sponsor for a green card, or drags his feet? What if the new labor certification hits a snag? What if the new employer is a startup, with funding in hand for two years but merely hope for what happens afterward?

The Infosyses almost never sponsor their workers for green cards. (See Ron Hira’s work if you need numbers.) Unfortunately, some people use that as an argument supporting the “Intels Good, Infosyses Bad” point of view — the Intels are claimed to use H-1B responsibly, because they sponsor for green cards. But it is exactly the opposite — since the Intels sponsor for green cards, and then use that sponsorship as a way to trap their foreign workers, the Intels’ abuse of the foreign worker system is actually WORSE than that of the Infosyses.

But, you might counter, isn’t it true that the Infosyses generally pay less than the Intels? True but irrelevant. The two sectors are hiring different classes of people. I’ve made a car analogy on this in the past: The Infosyses are buying Toyota Corollas while the Intels are buying Camrys — but both are getting a 20% discount on the classes of cars they are buying.

And once again, the wages are not even the major point. A much bigger issue is loss of job opportunities for Americans.  To suddenly lose one’s career at age 35 or 40 is far worse than having to take somewhat lower wages. Both the Intels and Infosyses are employing foreign workers in jobs that could be filled by Americans.

And in turn, one of the most dangerous aspects of the “Intels Good, Infosyses Bad” mythology is the emphasis on the word replace, as in “The Infosyses are using H-1Bs to replace Americans.” But the Intels hire H-1Bs instead of Americans. There is no difference.

The end of the NPR piece is priceless:

SIEGEL: And we should acknowledge NPR has a small number of H-1B workers. Last year it filed for three applications for H-1B visas with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Yes, H-1Bs are hired in the journalism field too. My favorite example was given to me by a reporter at the Dallas Morning News. Turns out the paper was hiring an H-1B as a “bilingual sports photographer.” No qualified Latino-Americans down there in Texas? Wonders never cease.

Mike Flynn

If I had to bet on it, I would guess that Mike Flynn is toast. Possibly crossing ethical/legal boundaries is one thing, but lying to VP Pence may well turn out to be a much bigger issue.

So I am not here to defend Flynn, but I wonder where the boundaries are for presidential candidates, presidents-elect and their surrogates. Didn’t Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsby tell the Canadian government during the 2008 election campaign not to worry about Obama’s public anti-trade statements? Obama later tried to smooth it over, but it looks like that did happen.

And what about Obama’s visit to Israel, and meeting with Netanyahu, in that same election campaign? What, you think Bibi and Barry just talked about hummus?

Again, the situation with Flynn is probably different for a number of reasons. But the press would have us believe that there is a solid firewall in such situations, and this seems quite misleading.

Diversity All Around Us

In my recent post, I noted the absurdity of Nexdoor CEO Nirav Tolia’s claiming to hire H-1Bs on “diversity” grounds:

The notion that Nextdoor, located in San Francisco, has to resort to hire foreign workers because the locals lack diversity is laughable.

I’d like to illustrate that with an incident that occurred in my office a few days later. There were four students in my office, all  undergraduates and all Americans except one. One was ethnic Chinese; one has Russian parents; one is a foreign grad student from India; and the fourth was your typical white girl.

Or so I thought. The “typical white girl’s” mom turned out to be Filipino. (Other than this student’s dark hair, her Asian background was invisible, so I was fooled.)

The Chinese guy speaks Cantonese, and he and I briefly chatted in that language. The Russian woman speaks Russian and has studied Korean and Japanese; the Anglo-Filipino girl understands Tagalog, and has picked up a fair amount of Chinese from her friends.

A few years ago, our then-chancellor (white) had the “brilliant” idea that all UC Davis students should be required to spend a quarter abroad, so as to broaden their cultural horizons. Well, he may have grown up in White Bread America but most UCD students did NOT.

Diversity is a great concept, and maybe we need more of it in some venues. (Social class is a separate issue.) But here in California we are ALREADY quite diverse. The misapplication of the Diversity Card, whether deliberate deception as in Tolia’s case or arising from just plain ignorance as in the chancellor’s case, is A Good Concept Gone Wild.

And by the way, when the chancellor presented his idea to a group of us campus committee chairs, an African-American professor in one of the social science departments said to the chancellor, in an irritated and not very polite tone, “I write and teach about the U.S. You are demeaning my work.” Indeed.

In discussions about H-1B, defenders of the program imply that those complaining are white males who don’t have a high degree of tolerance to those of other races. Again, this is playing the Race Card, whether deliberately or out of ignorance. Look at the picture of H-1B victims in the New York Times article the other day — how many white males do you see? Look in any undergraduate computer science classroom at a California university; how many white males do you see there? And no, the vast majority at the undergrad level are Americans, not foreign students.

And though Silicon Valley firms say they would love to hire more African-Americans, but they are nowhere to be found, this claim also sounds disingenuous. I’ve mentioned before the case of a young black man from a Top-5 university whom I know to be very talented. He actually was hired as an intern by Google when he was a student, but only for a management training program, not as an engineer.

As Senator Grassley once said, “No one should be fooled.”

Excellent Illustration of Economic Principles in the SF Chron

The industry lobbyists like to say that foreign tech workers can’t be underpaid, because employers bid against each other to be able to hire the person. But I’ve pointed out many times that this flies in the face of economic principles. One of those principles involves nonmonetary compensation.

An American worker might go with Company A instead of a higher-paying Company B if A has onsite childcare services, or if the commute to A is much shorter, and so on. In the case of the foreign worker, a huge source of nonmonetary compensation is green card sponsorship.

This is vividly illustrated in an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. There is more than a little irony here, in that the article is clearly intended to present pro-H-1B arguments. Various pro-H-1B individuals and organizations are cited, with no material at all on the other side. Or so the reporter thinks…

The reporter, apparently unwittingly, shows exactly how the foreign workers can be underpaid:

“If they have three offers, and one says, ‘We’ll process your green card in the first 90 days,’ they’ll pick that company 9 times out of 10,” [tech recruiter Jason] Stomel said.

“If people are in a reasonably good place and at a job they like and are feeling reasonably secure, why would they put themselves at risk by chasing an extra $25,000 in salary?” said Andy McLoughlin, a partner at SoftTech VC, a venture capital firm with offices in Palo Alto and San Francisco.

Many Americans (including former H-1Bs) who feel harmed by the H-1B program complain to me that the press is highly biased in favor of the industry. I usually reply that most journalists want to write the truth but are easily duped by the industry CEOs and their lobbyists. These days I am less convinced that most journalists are unbiased, but I must say that the industry is finding it easier and easier to fool them.

Case in point: This op-ed by GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving. Every argument he makes is based on analyses from “researchers” who take money from the industry. Sadly, Fortune never chose to question him about sources. And what he writes in his piece is what the lobbyists are telling Congress and the President.

And sure enough, Irving promotes the Intels Good, Infosyses bad approach to H-1B reform, a deception that would be disastrous to American workers if adopted. And keep in mind, President Trump has stated his support for that approach many times. On the other hand, he has asked AG Sessions to investigate the entire foreign tech worker issue, and hopefully he will make use of data and analysis that isn’t tainted like Irving’s are.



Nextdoor CEO: H-1B Is for Diversity, Not Cheap, Immobile Labor

This CNN interview of the CEO of the startup firm Nextdoor, headlined “Growing List of Tech Companies Oppose Travel Ban,” exemplifies the ease with which the industry can mislead an unquestioning press and an eager-to-please Congress.

In the clip, the CEO, Nirav Tolia, goes out of his way to insert the word diversity into every possible sentence he utters. Even when asked point blank whether Tolia’s hiring of H-1Bs deprives some Americans of jobs, he replies that “We believe in diversity.”

What, you don’t like diversity? I like it, but I don’t like people who abuse the H-1B system and then outrageously use diversity to obfuscate the issue.

First I will state the obvious: The notion that Nextdoor, located in San Francisco, has to resort to hire foreign workers because the locals lack diversity is laughable. But the less obvious facet — which SHOULD be obvious to regular readers of this blog — is that the firm is likely hiring a number of young new/recent foreign graduates of U.S. schools. Being young makes them cheaper, and being foreign makes them immobile.

This seems to be reflected in the Jobs page at the company’s Web site. The listings typically ask for only 2 or 3 years of experience, usually a clear signal that those with 10+ years need not apply. Moreover, the listings are overloaded with requirements, such as this one for a Software Engineer. This is a standard way of excluding American applicants, or as prominent immigration attorney Joel Stewart once put it, “Employers who favor aliens have an arsenal of legal means to reject all U.S. workers who apply.”

And there’s more: My guess is that older (35+) former H-1Bs who now have green cards are not considered “diverse” by this employer. They do appear to have at least one such person, according to LinkedIn, but most qualified applicants in this category will be screened out, diversity or no diversity.

Sorry, but Tolia’s noble-sounding claim of hiring H-1Bs for “diversity’s” sake just doesn’t add up. The assertions that he has engaged in unethical business practices don’t help his case here either.

As to Trump’s travel ban itself, I wrote in a previous post that it seemed premature to me. But I also pointed out that if the level of terrorism rises high enough, even the critics would agree that strong action is required. And Trump claims to have classified information showing that a ban is urgently needed now; I certainly have no way to gainsay that.

What I can say, though, is that I am deeply disturbed by the arguing tactics of opponents of the ban. We are told, for instance, “No deaths have occurred on U.S. soil by attackers from the seven banned countries.” The bold-face emphasis here is mine, of course. Such phrasing ignores, for instance, the crazed, knife-wielding attack by a Somali refugee, reported last November. Fortunately, the police got there quickly and prevented deaths, but critics of the travel ban can say “No deaths.” And as to their phrase “on U.S. soil,” of course they are ignoring Europe, which somehow doesn’t count.

And on the flip side, those 100 tech CEOs who are so vigorously opposing the ban don’t mention the fact that almost none of their immigrant and guest workers come from countries that have been the source of much terrorism. Google, for instance, turns out to have only 100 workers from the list of seven temporarily blocked nations, out of 60,000 employees total, minuscule. This hasn’t been brought up much by our gullible press.

Our democracy cannot function if the press is so unquestioning.