Dr. Norm Matloff writes to his email list:
After I posted my message yesterday about the e-mail problems I'd been having for some time, many of those who replied noted that the timing of my new system is fortuitous, as they had noticed that the industry lobbyists have recently begun a full-court press to get Congress to expand the foreign tech worker programs. But the fact is that the lobbyists have been working all along, implanting in the national consciousness the notions that we have a STEM labor shortage, that "Johnnie Can't/Won't Do STEM" and so on.
My posting here will involve various aspects of that PR machine that have risen lately. I think many of you will be swearing at your computer screens when you read some of this. :-) As I've often said, it does epitomize the loss of our democracy.
Let's start with this one: MarchForInnovation.com[The Virtual March For Immigration Reform] "I Have a Dream" goes virtual! It's not clear exactly where that is going, but you can bet it will make the press, which is likely the goal.
That "march" was already written up by FT, available on the CNN site. Here is an excerpt:
"Our immigration laws are so inefficient," says Prerna Gupta, a co-founder of Khush, a start-up developing intelligent music apps, and the daughter of Indian immigrants.
"Our country was built off the backs of immigrants and I've seen first-hand the impact that educated immigrants can have. So as an employer, it's extremely frustrating not to be able to hire the educated engineers we need," she said.
When Khush was getting started in 2009, they could not afford the legal fees required to get an H-1B high-skilled visa for one of the co-founders, a Chinese engineer who wrote the code for the app.
Instead, someone else had to spend months learning the code. "It really slowed us down," Ms Gupta said.
They couldn't afford the H-1B visa's FEES? So how on Earth could they afford to pay the desired H-1B worker's salary? Or were they planning for him not to draw a salary at all, which may have been the real problem? And how would any of the proposals currently on the Hill, which she is presumably supporting, have helped her? None that I know of has a fee waiver clause. In spite of these oddities, the industry PR people have their poster girl.
Another tack is to get government at the non-federal level involved. Of course, state governors and such have no legislative power on the H-1B issue, but it all adds up to creating an image of a groundswell of public opinion in support of expanded H-1B.
In this case, the PR experts have managed to get down to the county level: Supervisors to Discuss Immigration Reform, by Jennifer Wadsworth, San Jose Insider, February 23, 2013.
Next, we have the latest from Stuart Anderson: Immigrant cancer researchers saving American lives, Daily Caller, February 26, 2013
When I first heard of his report this afternoon (from an alert reader), I thought that Anderson's timing is awful. After all, a Washington Post article last year exposed the fact that we have a GLUT of medical researchers, in fact such a dire glut that it is dissuading America's best and brightest from pursuing careers in the field. This was the finding of a blue ribbon commission, which also found (as I've noted here often) that H-1B is playing a major role in producing that glut.
So, I thought, why would Anderson conduct his study now, when the NIH has already pre-negated his findings? Curious, I clicked on the link to his report,PDF.
There lies the answer. Anderson says:
If one would poll Americans on which immigrants they would most like to see admitted to the country, it is likely cancer researchers would be at the top of the list. Therefore, it was surprising to officials at research institutes that Congress specifically excluded the fields that would have allowed foreign-born cancer researchers to gain permanent residence (green card) in the United States when the U.S. House Representatives passed H.R. 6429, the STEM Jobs Act last year. The bill did not pass the U.S. Senate and cancer center officials hope this will be corrected in any future legislation.
That part of the bill presumably was motivated by the NIH commission's finding that we have a glut of biomedical researchers. In other words: Rather than NIH having pre-negated Anderson's findings, HE wants to negate THEIR findings.
Anderson of course doesn't mention the NIH report, saying only that the bill exclusion of the life sciences arose "as the result of anecdotes about some job difficulties experienced by graduates in some science fields." So, a long, extensive study by a blue ribbon commission, including the president of Princeton University, with tons of data, mathematical modeling and so on, is reduced by Anderson to "anecdote."
But the gullible press will take this without question. The NIH commission's finding had been reported in the Washington Post, front page, above the fold, but I think you'd have a hard time finding many Hill dwellers who know about it. Don't they read the Washington Post in DC?, you might ask. They do, but the industry PR machine is so effective that it mesmerizes people; the Post article likely just caused cognitive dissonance on the Hill, resolved in favor of the industry PR. And though the bill did exclude the life sciences, it's likely that very few of the congresspeople who voted for it were aware of that.
(Note by the way that it is not just the life sciences where there is a glut. The bill was far too broad even with the exclusion. Also, Anderson gives the usual "the unemployment rate is low" argument, very misleading since those who are forced out of the field—or are working as low-paid post docs—don't count as unemployed.)
Which brings me to two interactions readers of this e-newsletter have had with Hill staffers. One, who has a background in biomedical research, met with a staffer of a certain senator the other day, presenting data on our OVERproduction of STEM degrees. The staffer said she had trouble getting her head around the concept, since all her visitors had said the opposite. It doesn't seem to have occurred to the staffer that those other visitors had vested interests that colored their views.
I myself don't lobby. Other than occasionally agreeing to requests that I talk to certain people on the Hill, I really don't know much of what is going on up there.
So yesterday I asked several people who do know the same question I raised above: Don't people in DC read the Washington Post? All the information is out there in public, researched by reputable organizations—the NIH, the Urban Institute, NBER and so on. Why aren't they aware of it?
One of the people I asked was John Miano, whom many of you know of. A former techie, he founded the Programmers Guild to work against the H-1B visa, and along the way became a lawyer. He is now with the Center for Immigration Studies.
After I told John about the above incident, he responded with the following, which I am quoting with his permission:
I remember meeting Congressman Moran's Chief of Staff in 2002. He would not even allow me to discuss the possibility that there was no shortage. He said up front that if I wanted to discuss that he was not going to listen.
This is quite a remarkable incident! I suppose the (somewhat) charitable interpretation is that Moran meant that he'd heard the arguments claiming we don't have a tech labor shortage, had carefully weighed them, and had decided they weren't credible. The less charitable explanation is that he was saying, in effect, "The tech industry gives us huge campaign contributions, and we're going to do their bidding." Recall that Sen. Bennett and Rep. Davis both made explicit statements like that in public in the past.
The distribution list for this e-newsletter includes both techies and those interested in the topic (journalists, researchers and yes, some Hill staffers). I often get queries from techie readers asking what they can do, in the face of this powerful industry PR machine.
So I also posed that question to Jeremy Beck of NumbersUSA. He replied (quoted here with his permission) "I'm happy to work with anyone interested in that kind of activism. Feel free to pass my email along to any interested parties." If you techies are interested, he's at firstname.lastname@example.org