Sen. Rubio, Chris Ray and Chinese Foreign Students

I often pose policy questions here to which I do not have good answers. This evening’s posting falls into this category.

Though most people following last Tuesday’s Senate hearing on “spies within us” focused on the testimony involving Russia, several primarily Chinese-American activist groups and members of Congress are protesting an exchange between Senator Marco Rubio and FBI Directory Chris Wray concerning “the counterintelligence risk posed to U.S. national security from Chinese students.”

The activists are accusing Rubio and Wray of claiming that all or most Chinese students are spies. Of course, Rubio and Wray said no such thing, but this is now the norm in U.S. politics. In 2016 the Democrats cried that Trump had said all Mexican immigrants are murderers etc. but of course he never said such a thing. I will return to this point later in the post.

One of those objecting to Rubio and Wray’s comments was Rep. Judy Chu, whose LA-area district is one of the most, if not THE most, heavily-Chinese in the nation. Valley Blvd., stretching 20 miles through umpteen San Gabriel Valley suburbs, is a Chinese foodie’s dream, a seemingly unending string of Chinese restaurants, Chinese cafe’s, Chinese grocery stores and Chinese malls. Chu, speaking for the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC)  wrote (emphasis added),

There is no doubt that we must take espionage threats from foreign countries seriously. However, Senator Rubio’s leading question and FBI Director Wray’s sweepingly broad response were completely irresponsible generalizations that attempt to paint all Chinese students and scholars as spies for China. I condemn these remarks entirely and reject these dangerous attempts to build a case that Chinese students, professors, and scholars should be viewed with more suspicion than others.

Unfortunately, Chu’s last statement is statistically incorrect. As a group, the Chinese students ARE different.

The number of cases of industrial espionage by (typically former) Chinese foreign students has been so large that the Wall Street Journal once published a table summarizing them. And many of the Chinese students have been quite militant in the affairs of their host countries, such as their efforts to block the Dalai Lama from delivering a commencement address at the University of California, San Diego. A report of an incident in Australia is chilling. (Added, March 9: See also the long Foreign Policy article on these issues.)

I know of no other country whose foreign students are acting in this manner.

The Confucius Institutes, also mentioned by Rubio, have indeed been under attack as being used by the Chinese government as propaganda tools on U.S. campuses. Some universities have closed them down. According to Inside Higher Ed,

One U.S.-based Confucius Institute, at the University of Chicago, closed in 2014 after more than 100 faculty signed a petition that cited, among other things, concerns that Hanban’s role in the hiring and training of teachers “subjects the university’s academic program to the political constraints on free speech and belief that are specific to the People’s Republic of China.”

A February 18 column by the Washington Post‘s Josh Rogin was titled “Waking up to China’s infiltration of American colleges.” That title says it all.

So Rep. Chu is wrong; the Chinese case is indeed different.

Thus Rubio and Wray did have a valid point. But what do they propose to do about it? The vast majority of Chinese students are simply here to study (and in many cases, to eventually become Americans).

On the other hand, as I have pointed out, a “vast majority are harmless” argument is not sufficient in discussions of public and national security. Only a tiny percentage of immigrants are terrorists, murderers or gang members, but those tiny percentages, translated to absolute numbers, cause much American misery.

To be sure, Chu and the others do have a point in suggesting that  Rubio and Wray’s concern over China’s attempt to influence U.S. internal affairs might lead to overzealous investigation of the innocent. The February 15 press release of the mainly-Chinese group Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association (APAPA; unfortunately the press release seems not to be on the Web), warns,

The past glaring examples of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1942 Japanese Internment Act, and the recent racial profiling of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, Sherry Chen and Dr. Xiaoxing Xi were part of America’s shameful and discriminatory history – a history that should not be repeated.

This is partly true, partly not. The Xi case does seems to be a tragic instance of inept bungling on the government’s part. However, although Dr. Lee’s civil rights were indeed egregiously violated by the FBI, by his own admission he had had proactive contact with a confessed spy; that, not racial profiling, is what brought him under suspicion. One Chinese-immigrant friend who is knowledgeable on the Chen case says although she was no spy, her handling of government documents did justify her getting fired.

Though there are no clear solutions — the U.S. is not going to shut down the flow of Chinese students to the U.S., nor should it — the concerns raised by Rubio and Wray cannot be dismissed. Use by Chu and others of the magic incantation “racial profiling” is both inaccurate and counter to U.S. interests. Rubio and Wray need to hear about the concerns of CAPAC, but the latter must first admit that there indeed is a problem.


Noncitizens Are Constituents?

As some of you know, Immigration Voice, an organization of H-1Bs and other foreign workers waiting for green cards, contends that the per-country limit in employer-sponsored green card policy is unfair. Since the vast majority of such green cards applicants have in recent years been Indian and Chinese nationals, the backlog for those two countries can be quite long, especially for the EB-3 category, which is designated for the mediocre rather than “the best and brightest.”

I’ve been neutral on this issue (leaning toward supporting the per-country caps), but one thing I am NOT neutral on is lobbying by noncitizens. IV has retained a fancy lobbying firm, and regularly has its members call and visit members of Congress. This is fundamentally wrong in the first place, but even worse considering the negative impact these workers have on U.S. citizens and permanent residents in the STEM areas.

I hope Congress will keep in mind that these workers, whether deserving of help or not, are NOT constituents.

Some Rare Voices of Reason in the Recent Press

Some items worth mentioning, showing that not all of the media has gone lunatic:

First, journalist Ted Koppel is visiting his alma mater, Stanford University, and gave a thoughtful interview to the Stanford Daily, including this passage:

Moreover, Koppel expressed disappointment in news reporters whose personal and political opposition to Trump, he believes, has compromised the objectivity of their reporting.

“You cannot read [The New York Times] without coming to the conclusion that almost everybody who works for the organization would like to see Donald Trump replaced,” Koppel said. “Other than on their op-ed pages, I don’t really want to know what the opinion or political outlook of the reporter.”

Hear, hear! The morning after Trump’s SOTU speech, the NYT was “reporting” — not on the editorial page — that the speech would do nothing to raise Trump’s low rating in the surveys. Yet the polls on the same day found that the populace approved of his speech at the rates of 70 to 80% (even including 43% of the Democrats, according to CBS News).

Second, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon. Those on the left (a group whose views I generally share) would dismiss Adams’ column as the racist writings of a Trump surrogate, but applying the Koppel criterion, I really can’t tell whether Adams voted for The Donald or not. Instead, I see a carefully reasoned essay decrying the extreme bias of the NYT, WaPo etc. One of many excellent passages:

Charlottesville. Critics believe Mr. Trump took sides with the torch-carrying racists who were chanting anti-Semitic slogans in Charlottesville, Va., and called them “fine people.” The implication is that he publicly betrayed his Jewish daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren—while also inexplicably recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That doesn’t make sense.

The more ordinary explanation is that Mr. Trump spoke about the protests without having all the details about who attended and why. It was reasonable for him to assume some people were there because they agreed with his position that toppling Confederate statues is more about political correctness than racism. (For the record, I regard those statues as offensive decorations we can live without.) In any event, Mr. Trump later disavowed the Charlottesville racists in clear terms.

(Actually, he immediately denounced the racists.)

Next, a NYT column by George Borjas. Granted, the NYT did run George’s piece, and has done so from time to time over the years (though it’s probably tough to ignore a Harvard professor). They even gave the piece a fitting title, “Trump Sets Up a Grand Bargain on Immigration,” and I concur. It is indeed a grand bargain, with Trump offering the Democrats much more than they have been asking for, in return for concessions that the Democrats already were supporting in 2013. (If you read that last sentence having just arrived from an extended visit to Mars, and are wondering why the Democrats are so virulently opposed to the Trump proposal, then you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.)

And finally, a column by CIS Director Mark Krikorian, who is sick and tired of claims by the Left that Trump’s proposal is aimed at, in Nancy Pelosi’s words, “Making America white again.” As Mark points out, even using the numbers of Michael Clemons, one of the most militant researchers advocating for high levels of immigration, it would still be the case that 71.7% of new immigrants would be non-white. What, 71.7% isn’t high enough for Clemons?

As I have already stated, the Trump plan is not perfect. Instead of the Wall, E-Verify would be sufficient in dealing with the border issue. And I have suggested expanding the green card diversity lottery rather than eliminating it; among other things its racial implications would thrill Clemons.

But good grief, folks.  In earlier, saner times the political pundits, noting that extremists on both sides are trashing the Trump proposal, would cite opposition by the extremes as evidence that the proposal is a sensible middle ground, indeed a Grand Bargain. The fact that George Borjas is the only major figure to say so is a sad commentary on our times.

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.