H.R. 392 (eliminates country caps…)

For some time, activist groups such as Immigration Voice (IV) have lobbied Congress to change the law on green cards. Specifically, the statute limits nationals (by birth) of each country in the world to 20,000 green cards per year. Since the dominant nationality among H-1Bs is Indian (with Chinese a distant second), the same is true for applications for employer-sponsored green cards. This has created longer and longer backlogs, with waits exceeding 10 years or, according to some estimates, forever.

(Note by the way that the employers in question are the “Intels,” i.e. mainstream firms, large and small, who hire foreign students at U.S. campuses and eventually sponsoring them for green cards. The “Infosyses,” i.e. outsourcing firms, only rarely sponsor their foreign workers for green cards.)

IV has been lobbying Congress for years for a remedy, and they were excited to see it finally materialize as H.R. 392, which (not surprisingly) now seems stalled.

I’ve been neutral on the bill, preferring to point out that if the employer-sponsored green card programs were limited to their putative goals — remedying labor shortages and bringing in “the best and the brightest” — there would be no backlog. Back in the 80s, say, a typical wait would be a year or two, and with a decent reform to H-1B and the EB-series green cards, we could easily achieve this.

Although my stance on the bill has been neutral, I have expressed irritation with some foreign workers who refuse to acknowledge that the H-1B and green card programs do have many American (US citizens and permanent residents) victims, for whom the bill’s title, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017, sounds rather Orwellian.

With this in mind, I was rather startled to see this article from the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group concerned with the influence of monied groups in politics. The opening paragraphs sound more like an IV plant than a piece on money on the Hill. The material on lobbying does not appear until the eighth ‘graph, but once it begins, it is interesting and informative.

What is most interesting to me, though, is the article’s excellent coverage of an aspect that I have often highlighted over the years (emphasis added):

According to [IV co-founder Aman] Kapoor, the Indian backlog problem is self-sustaining. People with H-1B status can’t switch jobs for fear of losing their place in line, so some employers seek out Indian candidates to take advantage of their H-1B status and their hopes of receiving a green card. Companies can hire them at entry-level salaries and keep them for a cheap and consistent price, even as they accrue on-the-job experience that might make them more valuable employees. Because their green card applications are attached to their job title, Indian workers can be stuck in the same position for years or decades, unable to accept a pay raise or promotion without starting the whole process over.

Excellent, succinct analysis, but I would replace “some employers” by “many employers, including the big household name firms.” As I wrote for instance in my HuffPo op-ed,

This immobility is of huge value to many employers, as it means that a foreign worker can’t leave them in the lurch in the midst of an urgent project. In a 2012 meeting between Google and several researchers, including myself, the firm explained the advantage of hiring foreign workers: the company can’t prevent the departure of Americans, but the foreign workers are stuck. David Swaim, an immigration lawyer who designed Texas Instruments’ immigration policy and is now in private practice, overtly urges employers to hire foreign students instead of Americans.

This candid statement by Google (which they volunteered, not in response to a question) should have been a bombshell, appearing in a prominent outlet.  Reporters should have been beating a path to my door, asking me for details.  No one ever has, including the ones who contacted me about H-1B because they had seen the HuffPo piece. Go figure.

Ironically, the only one who has ever responded on this was Rep. Ro Khanna,     during the debate between him and me sponsored by the Voice of America.  He DID see that it was a bombshell, and as a staunch advocate for the tech industry he was quite angry at my stating it.  Here is an excerpt from my report on the debate:     

Khanna reacted quite sharply to this, his voice rising. ‘This is a very serious charge! You have no proof! Who at Google said this? What are their names?’ I replied that I had stated this publicly before without objection from Google,and then said, ‘I’ll give you the name of the HR person, who by the way is now at Facebook. You should call Google.’ But of course he did not take me up on the offer.

Here we have a major, indeed iconic, Silicon Valley firm admitting to giving hiring preference to foreign workers. To me, the failure of the press to follow up on such a tantalizing lead is mystifying.

The article also notes that the bill’s shorter waits for Indians would result in longer waits for others, citing Iranians as an example. One can debate what is really “fair” here, but the salient issue is this: If H.R. 392 were ever to be enacted (possibly as part of another bill), Congress would feel it would be forced to enact a companion measure, the so-called Staple a Green Card policy. The latter would grant blanket permanent residency to all STEM graduate students at US schools (“stapling a green card to their diplomas”). Arguably H.R. 392, by simply “rearranging the deck chairs,” would have no adverse impact on U.S. workers, but Staple’s harm on the Americans would be severe, as I have written before.

There is no better example of “the devil is in the details” than H-1B/green card policy.


Crazy Hypocritical

I’ve often written that the word Asian is misused, often for calculated political reasons. For instance, in the currently pending lawsuit against Harvard’s admissions affirmative action (AA) policies, the claim is discrimination against Asian-American applicants, yet the anti-AA movement has been mostly Chinese. Indeed, for the most part, Indian- and other South Asian-Americans have been conspicuously absent, in spite of similar demographics. It’s natural that the anti-AA people want the broader “Asian” umbrella, but this example shows that the term can be misleading.

Another interesting example, pointed out in The Economist‘s September 1 issue, is the movie Crazy Rich Asians. Many Asian-American activists, again mainly Chinese, have praised the film for having an “all-Asian” cast. They had complained for years, quite justifiably, that Hollywood has typically portrayed Asians in negative roles, say menial workers. Now, finally, an “Asian” movie is out, and enjoying high box office success.

Well, not quite, says Banyan of The Economist, writing on how some view the film in multi-ethnic Singapore, the setting of the film. The main characters are ethnic Chinese (though the male lead is half Malay, half white). The Economist, not a publication that plays up identity politics, writes:

For plenty of Asians, the film is more of an affront than a triumph…the film ignores all Asians other than the Chinese kind. One-quarter of Singapore’s population is not Chinese but of Malay or Indian descent. Yet when Malays feature, it is as valet-parking attendants, Indonesians as masseuses…Sikh guards [are portrayed as] buffoonish…What passes for victory in Hollywood can look like a glaring failure in Singapore.

Not sure how Banyan got wind of this, but it’s an important point.

Chain Migration

One of the aims of the White House immigration proposal is to reduce chain migration — John immigrates to the US, then sponsors his wife Mary, who sponsors her brother Bill and so on. As one goes through the chain, the connection to John becomes weaker and weaker, at some point becoming nil.

Ironically, you’ll find no better example of chain migration than this article extolling it. This passage says it all:

The young engineer arrived in America when he was 23 with a good education and little else. He landed a job at a nuclear test site, and built a home in Nevada. Between the 1970s and the mid-1980s, he brought his wife, mother, five sisters and a brother over from India, his native land.

In later years, his siblings sponsored family members of their own, and their clan now stretches from Nevada to Florida, New Jersey to Texas — more than 90 Americans nurtured on the strength of one ambitious engineer, Jagdish Patel, 72.

90! Mr. Patel sounds content and proud, as he well should be. But the implication that that nuclear test site couldn’t have filled its position had he not been available is of course false. Moreover, if any of those 90 people immigrated at or near retirement age, it is very likely that they used government services — cash in SSI, health care in Medicaid, access to subsidized senior housing and so on. (Many government-supported senior housing facilities are heavily populated by immigrants with little or no work experience in the U.S.  This is causing long waiting lists, with many people, native or immigrant, who did work in the U.S. now being frozen out.)

In the last 10 years or so, there is been bipartisan support for ending the core driver of chain migration, the Fourth Preference, under which naturalized citizens can sponsor their adult siblings for green cards — until now. Today, with both parties refusing to cooperate on immigration (and virtually everything else), the Democrats hope people won’t remember the Dems’ past stance, and are treating ending the Fourth Preference as Evil Incarnate.

For the record, I’ll remind everyone that I do not like elitist policies, and thus I oppose the Trump immigration reform proposal. But that doesn’t mean I support the fallacious arguments against it.

Lawsuit Against Harvard Admissions

Haven’t had much time to post here recently, largely because of travel — in order, China, Chicago, LA, Vancouver BC and Eugene OR. There have been no new developments on the H-1B work visa or other topics that I like to comment on.

However, there is another topic of keen interest to me, Affirmative Action (AA), both in general and especially in college admissions. I’m a strong supporter of AA from way back, so I’ve been quite interested in the lawsuit being brought against Harvard, claiming the latter’s admissions process discriminates against Asian-American applicants. (Actually, none of the plaintiffs is Asian, but there are some Asian groups, mainly Chinese-immigrant STEM professionals, supporting the suit.)

In my view, the plaintiffs’ arguments are uninformed, misleading and fallacious. Thus I’ve written a Web page, titled “A Statistician Looks at Affirmative Action in College Admissions,” taking a careful look at the issues. I invite you to take a look, and let me know your comments.

Microsoft Threatens to Move (More) Work Offshore

The opening of this CNBC report on Microsoft and immigration policy says it all:

Microsoft does not want to move jobs out of the United States but certain decisions out of Washington could potentially force its hands, the company’s President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith warned.

This of course is an age-old threat by the industry: “Allow us to bring more foreign workers here, or we will move the work abroad!” This always resonates with Congress, conjuring up images of shuttered factories in the Northeast and South. But its one of the more deceptive lines in the H-1B debate.

First, of course, is that pesky little fact that Microsoft is overwhelmed with US job applicants, plenty of whom are well-qualified. The notion that Microsoft’s work won’t get done without foreign workers is just plain false.

But more interestingly, the two-faced nature of Microsoft’s statements like this has been exposed in the past. Back in 2001, for instance, a Microsoft employee smuggled out an internal slide presentation which contained the exhortation, “Pick  something  to  move offshore today!” In other words, instead of being forced to offshore work, the firm was actively seeking to do so. Microsoft has also been caught asking its contract workers to take a furlough, and admitting that most of its jobs are not open to older workers. All this, of course, while continually claiming they need foreign workers to fill their jobs.

The CNBC reported here should have been a little less trusting.

Just One Data Point, But…

Sorry for my lack of posting for a while. I have a ton of material to discuss, but just don’t have the time. But I couldn’t resist posting this one. Bear with me, as it takes some setting up.

Some of you know, or know of, Mark Regets, retired from the National Science Foundation. In his heyday, he was NSF’s biggest booster of the H-1B program (a high bar!). Well, both Mark and I recently got into using Twitter. I’ve had an account for years (@matloff), but didn’t really use it until an unrelated issue came up.

A week or so ago, journalist Noah Smith (@Noahpinion) and I were discussing PhD production in the US. Though Noah has been a big promoter of H-1B in his Bloomberg View column, the conversation wasn’t really about H-1B or foreign students. But I did state that we are overproducing PhDs, and in jest I wrote “Look at all those PhDs working as barristas!”

Well, Mark saw that, and said this a myth, the PhDs are mostly in decent jobs, etc. I replied that it was just a joke, but seriously many PhDs are UNDER-employed.

I am quite active in the R programming language, which is widely used in the data science field. The annual worldwide R conference, useR!, is currently in progress in Brisbane, Australia. One of the attendees tweeted, I believe seriously, the following:

BARISTA: What are you doing today?

ME: I’m at an conference .

B: Oh I love R, I just moved from SPSS and Stata!

(SPSS and Stata are two commercial products that are fast losing ground to the open source, better quality R.)


Once Again, China Treated As Bogeyman

Today’s Washington Post ran a piece in what is becoming an increasing popular genre: “China is overtaking the U.S. in science research.” I’ve argued that such claims are vastly overblown, made by those in the U.S. with vested interests and a sensationalism-hungry American press. Yet there are legitimate questions raised here that sorely need a national conversation.

The article of course cites AI (itself a sensationalist term)  an example, one that I debunked here a few weeks ago. And another perennial sensationalist favorite, supercomputers, is cited as well. I’ve debunked that one too. Actually, that example is even worse: In the AI case, at least the field is important, even if the claim of impending Chinese superiority is unwarranted, while bragging about having the world’s largest supercomputer is really akin to Trump and Kim arguing who has the larger “button.”

That said, though, there is absolutely no question that China is offering a much better deal to top researchers than is the U.S. — high salaries, mind-boggling signing bonuses, and most importantly, guaranteed research funding. The article greatly errs, though, in asserting that the U.S. is simply not allocating enough resources to STEM. Ironically, the problem is that we are overdoing it.

We are producing too many PhDs. The total amount of U.S. government research funding has been  generous over the years, but is being spread out among a larger and larger pool of researchers. It has thus become more and more difficult — a better word would be agonizing — for researchers at U.S. universities to secure funding.

The problem is compounded further by the increasing number of foreign students. A 1989 internal report in the National Science Foundation, one of the two main STEM funders in the U.S., actually advocated bringing in more foreign students, on the grounds of costs savings, and noted that as the foreign students flooded the labor market, fewer domestic students would pursue PhDs, further bringing down salaries and thus making doctoral study even less attractive, and so on, a vicious circle (though a virtuous one from NSF’s point of view, as they “get more bang for the buck” in their research funding).

Now “they” are warning that the foreign students might go home after their study here, or not come here in the first place. I think that warning too is overblown, but really folks, they can’t have it both ways.

In other words, our national STEM policy has been just plain wrongheaded for years, in many respects. We need to have a national, rational, vested-interests-free-zone discussion of just what it is that we want. I would pose the following questions as among those that urgently need discussion:

  • How important do we really consider STEM research, both fundamental and applied?
  • Do we want quality research (American tradition) or merely quantity (China’s current strategy)?
  • Is the policy of the last 30 years, which has the direct effect of discouraging talented U.S. students from pursuing careers in STEM research, acceptable? (And if not, why have we allowed it?)

I won’t hold my breath waiting for such a discussion, though.