Dr. Norm Matloff: BusinessWeek article on Exiting Techies
July 28, 2009, 06:50 AM
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Dr. Norm Matloff writes
"”No one goes there anymore - it's too crowded”—Yogi Berra

If there is one central point in my writings on H-1B, it's that the visa is used by employers to avoid hiring older, i.e. 35+, Americans, who are more expensive than the 20-somethings. This is not the case for branches of engineering in which there are rather few H-1Bs employed, such as civil engineering. (See my University of Michigan law journal article for data.)

And I've emphasized that the word "Americans" here means not only natives, but also naturalized U.S. citizens and green card holders. This in turn obviously has consequences: As immigrant engineers learn the sad truth and find after a few years that they too are being passed over by employers in favor of H-1Bs, many send word back home that H-1B causes tech careers to tend to be short-lived. Meanwhile, of course, professional opportunities in the main H-1B-sending nations, India and China, have been growing.

So, I've been predicting for several years now that the H-1B pipeline is going to dwindle. As I've written in postings here the last couple of years, that dwindling has already started in the case of China, and may be starting for the Indians too.

So the article enclosed below, like similar articles we've seen in the last year or so, rather misses the boat. It's not that "They're going home" but instead that "They've stopped coming here in the first place." [Skilled Immigrants on Why They're Leaving the U.S. | A long wait for a green card, coupled with the soft U.S. economy, is prompting an exodus of some of the best and brightest, By Moira Herbst, BusinessWeek, July 26, 2009]

Here, as before, there is spin doctoring in progress. In the past, tough post-9/11 visa restrictions were the blame that the "conventional wisdom" people placed on the decline in foreign students. True, some were in fact put off by the draconian policies, but the fact is that the decline had already started a year or so earlier.

Now, as seen below, the blame of choice is the long waits for green cards. Supporters of "instant green cards for foreign students" claim we're losing the geniuses due to the backlogs, but as I've pointed out before, the waits are short for "the best and the brightest," the EB-1 green card category. Swaroop Ganguly, the lead example in the enclosed article, has a good research record, and would have had a shot at the EB-1 green card level. But instead, he went off to Belgium, leaving his job at Freescale Semiconductor, which sponsors tons of engineers for green cards, according to the PERM data. I think it's pretty clear from that, and from his remarks below, that he really isn't very interested in staying in the U.S., and thus an "instant green card" program would not keep him here.

We certainly should try to keep "the best and the brightest," but in general the H-1B program is causing an internal brain drain in the U.S., shutting out many engineers over age 35, and causing many college students to avoid the field to begin with. The various businesses that the H-1Bs described in the article want to start sound OK, but lots of displaced Americans would have had good ideas if they were in the field too.

Kapil's case is interesting. First of all, IBM is to blame for stringing him along for three years before sponsoring him for a green card. If they'd sponsored him when they hired him, which used to be typical, he'd have gotten his green card approximately two years ago, assuming EB-2, which is likely. This "stringing out" of the process is a common strategy among employers that want de facto-indentured workers.

But second, the words "consultant" and "IBM" make it fairly likely that his job involves offshoring work to India. Again, we should blame IBM for that, not Kapil, but if he is involved in offshoring, that makes him a very poor choice of poster child for an "instant green card" program.

The author of the article below seems to take it for granted that the H-1Bs with graduate degrees are the "good" H-1Bs. Yet she offers no basis for that, and as I've shown before, those with graduate degrees are in general not especially talented. Note that the data in the Hunt paper that I reviewed the other day, archived at http://heather.cs.ucdavis.edu/Archive/JenniferHunt.txt indicate that this category of H-1Bs is in general weaker than similar U.S. natives.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has endorsed the "instant green card" idea, and as the article points out, Sen. Schumer and others have expressed support. But it's not justified, and would simply exacerbate the displacement of American engineers. It's the age problem again, as usual. Though recipients of "instant green cards" would now be free to move around in the labor market without exploitation, the key point is that they would almost all be young, and thus would have the same displacement effects.

Norm