Dr. Norm Matloff On Vivek Wadhwa And John Miano
December 17, 2009, 07:37 PM
A+
|
a-
Print Friendly and PDF

Dr. Norm Matloff writes

(Sorry for my relative absence of late. I've got two pressing projects going. But I hope within the next few days to post my analyses of two major reports that have been released lately. Also, there are a couple of you whom I promised private feedback on your analyses. I have yet to deliver, but haven't forgotten and will respond soon.)

Recently Vivek Wadhwa, the former CEO who has been quite critical of H-1B but nevertheless has been promoting the immigration of tech professionals, wrote a column that was pretty incendiary even by his standards.[The Startup Visa And Why The Xenophobes Need To Go Back Into Their Caves, TechCrunch.com, by Vivek Wadhwa on December 5, 2009.]

John Miano, founder of the Programmers Guild and currently a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies, then wrote an equally-pointed blog posting in response to Vivek.[The American-Bashers Revisited By John Miano, December 15, 2009]

I'm also going to discuss an article about immigrant techies deciding to leave the U.S. and return home. Vivek is quoted, and it ties in with some of his previous writings. In my view, as you'll see, it also ties in with John's comments in some ways, so I'll discuss it too.

Indeed, my posting here will concentrate on that third article. I'll let John and Vivek fight out themselves in print below, though I will once again object to the word "xenophobe"; people who are having trouble getting work in their field while the government is bringing in people to compete with them (and indeed undercut their wages) have a right to be upset without being called xenophobes. Actually, I wouldn't have used John's wording, "America bashers," either.

At any rate, I'll move straight to discussing the third article. The WSJ posts a notice asking that the article not be distributed, but you can currently view it here:With Fewer U.S. Opportunities, Home Looks Appealing to Expats | More Foreign-Born Professionals Are Finding Better Jobs, Lower Unemployment Abroad; 'I've Had Headhunters Calling', By Dana Mattioli,  December 14, 2009

The thrust of the article is that many immigrant professionals are finding it difficult to get good jobs here, and are considering returning to their home countries. Most of the ones profiled in the article are naturalized U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Vivek, quoted in the article, says he expects 100,000 expat Indians, the so-called NRIs, to return to India in the next five years. My comments here will be along quite different lines from what I usually address.

First, let me briefly say that I think Vivek's number and the overall theme of the article are exaggerated. One sees articles like this on occasion, and though they make good press, and many people do consider returning home, the fact is that most people are going to stay here. They have put down family roots, or their spouses have good jobs here, or they've actually investigated and found that opportunities for people like them (read: over age 35!) are limited back home, they like the social freedom here (politics is not of interest to many techies) etc.

I've mentioned before that the real trend is that fewer tech people will come to the U.S. in the first place, in the coming years. The number who go back is actually the less interesting figure.

Nevertheless, many will indeed go back, and there is something about them that I want to talk about. Let me begin with two quotes:

"By giving the foreign engineers and programmers fast-track green cards, we solve the H-1B problem, because THEY become US."—Paul Donnelly

"America is not really a country. It's just a place where people come to make money."—Chinese immigrant engineer, quoted by John Derbyshire.

Well, only a few of you will know who Donnelly is, and almost none of you know who Derbyshire is, so let me introduce them.

Paul Donnelly is a former staffer with the Congressional Commission on Immigration Reform in the 1990s. His former boss in Congress, Bruce Morrison, basically authored the legislation that established the H-1B program in 1990. Paul later worked for IEEE-USA, an organization that had long been critical of H-1B but was under heavy pressure by the IEEE parent organization to support skilled immigration. Paul got IEEE-USA to endorse a fast-track green card proposal. I strongly disagree with that notion, but the important point here is Paul's phrasing in the quote above.

Derbyshire is a programmer, mathematician and author of books about mathematicians. He's married to a Chinese immigrant, and is a speaker of Chinese. Except for the part on authorship of math biography, Derbyshire's background is interestingly similar to my own, but in general his views are radically different from mine. He's very conservative politically, and is from my viewpoint a bit of a China basher. He presented the Chinese immigrant he quoted above as being typical. Bluntly, he views Chinese immigration as a security risk. I must say before continuing that I very strongly disagree with that notion. But putting the security issue aside, but one can talk in some sense of social loyalty, as I'll explain.

Donnelly's and Derbyshire's points of view here are antithetical. Donnelly is saying that immigrants become "part of the family," while Derbyshire is saying that, at least in the Chinese case, they do not.

Again, I think Derbyshire's portrait is greatly overdrawn, and I'm hardly a jingoistic, rah-rah America, European culture rules type. I'm a native, but I grew up in an immigrant household (dad from eastern Europe), and if you were to visit my own home, you'd actually find it to be the typical immigrant household—different language, different food, different viewpoints, etc., and I've been quite active in the Chinese immigrant community.

But that said, if many skilled immigrants of whatever nationality do go back home, one must question the wisdom of policies under which they immigrated here in the first place.

First of all, one of the industry lobbyists' favorite lines is "We've educated these people, and if we don't keep them here, they'll return home and work for our foreign competitors." That one has always especially rankled me. The foreign competition idea doesn't bother me, and I on the contrary welcome the development of tech industries among Third World countries. And if the lobbyists are really worried about this as they claim, then the logical policy would be to not educate them here in the first place. The lobbyists would of course oppose this. So would I, but my point is that the lobbyists are not sincere. Most importantly, as Prof. AnnaLee Saxenian has shown, even those who do stay here participate to a remarkably high degree in the development of "foreign competitors," by investing, providing consulting advice and so on.

So, if many are going to go home after all, the lobbyists' own arguments become turned against them.

But viewing things in a broader sense, I return to the two quotes I placed at the outset of this posting. Though the industry lobbyists describe the issue is merely one of bringing in (what they claim is) needed labor, I think the vast majority of us view immigration in Donnellian terms—we want THEM to become US. We do want them to become part of the family. We do want the U.S. to be a nation, populated by people who may be diverse in various ways but who do feel a keen sense of nationhood.

And though I've always disagreed with Peter Brimelow's view of immigration as a big threat to that sense of nationhood, I think we can all agree that the granting of a green card, and certainly of naturalization, does imply a certain commitment. Jumping ship at the first sign of economic trouble was not supposed to be part of the deal.

Norm