Dr. Norm Matloff writes to his email list that
Texas Instruments is not an Indian firm
Contrary to all established principles of journalism, I will not get to the topic described by my mail title above until later in this posting. Please be patient.
First, though, let's discuss Pat Thibodeau's Computerworld February 8 blog posting, "Obama's H-1B Answer in Forum May Haunt Him," which will eventually lead to my title above, but also cover important points along the way. Pat's blog posting is here.
The issue is this: Jennifer Wedel's direct challenge to Pres. Obama in the Google+ "town hall meeting" regarding his support of the H-1B program caught Obama off balance. Already the Republicans have prepared to attack Obama on this point, something along the lines of Obama's not producing enough tech jobs, and Senator Grassley (a Republican) has sent Obama a letter supporting Mrs. Wedel on the H-1B issue. I reported on that letter here.
In his blog posting, Thibodeau asks whether the Wedel incident will cost Obama come election time in November. But that's hard to see happening, I think.
When I first reported on the Wedel case, I said it was the most remarkable incident I've seen in all the years I've been criticizing H-1B. But I also expressed doubts that it would have much effect.
My doubts grew when I reviewed the White House press conference, in which Obama's spokesperson STILL insisted that we have a tech labor shortage and that we need to import foreign workers. And of course, as Mark Krikorian pointed out in his recent blog post, the Republicans can hardly throw stones in the H-1B glass house.
If in a presidential election debate the president is asked about the Wedel case, he may get off the hook by saying that Wedel is a tough case, as he must stay in the Dallas area, due to child custody issues. Too bad, the president might say, because Intel in New York wanted to hire Wedel. We're already seeing some "spins" on the Wedel case, such as the Osgood File radio program implying that Wedel just didn't know how to look for a job.
I do think it's plausible that the Wedel case will at least discourage Congress from enacting legislation this year that expands the H-1B and/or green card programs, which would make the Wedels' bold speakout worthwhile. But as to it inspiring actual reform legislation, well, that would be wonderful, and one can hope. On the other hand, as I've pointed out before, "reform" could be worse than nothing. I'll return to this point later.
One important point in the blog posting is that Grassley told the president that he was glad to hear Obama tell Mrs. Wedel that "the H1-B should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field." Key word here is "should"; other than a minuscule exception category, H-1B employers are NOT required to give hiring priority to qualifed Americans. Among things, such a requirement would be imposed on employers under the Durbin/Grassley bill, which I've endorsed.
There is widespread ignorance in Congress on this point. Engineers and programmers who try to let their concerns known to their senators and representatives often receive a letter in response that states that employers do have to hire Americans first—a false claim, of course. Maybe it is genuine ignorance. But when it's pointed out that there is no such requirement, the politicians who had proudly pointed to this claimed-but-nonexistent protection for U.S. workers, suddenly have no interest in adding such a requirement. The politicians may not know all the ins and outs of H-1B law, but they certainly know that the industry doesn't want any new protections.
Pat Thibodeau's coverage of the H-1B case has been fantastic, but I must say I'm concerned that in this posting he ties Grassley's letter and his bill to the offshoring issue. Grassley didn't mention offshoring in his letter, and this bill covers many different aspects of H-1B and L-1. Thibodeau says that the offshoring companies don't like the Durbin/Grassley bill, but sadly, the bill is disliked by the entire industry. They would oppose (and have opposed) giving Americans hiring priority, and would in particular dislike the measure I consider central in the bill, reforming the legal definition of prevailing wage. Indeed, when a couple of years ago there was some effort to incorporate Durbin/Grassely into the comprehensive immigration reform bill, the lobbyists were already pushing to weaken D/G's prevailing wage measure.
As many of you know, the issue of the Indian firms—ones that offshore, and the rent-a-programmer firms—is a touchy one for me. Many in DC, e.g. Senator Schumer and Rep. Lofgren, have tried to portray the H-1B issue as a Good Guys (U.S. mainstream firms) versus Bad Guys (Indian firms) issue. The American firms are portrayed as using H-1B responsibly, while the Indians are portrayed as the villains. And it's not just the politicians; at least one academic has testified to Congress speaking in such terms.
In other words, the message from Schumer, Lofgren et al is that Darin Wedel is out of work because of the Indian firms. Yet the firm that laid him off three years ago is a mainstream American firm, Texas Instruments. And this is the same TI that testified to Congress last October that they need more H-1Bs.
I just checked TI's Careers Web page, specifying the Dallas area (note this point), and found positions for IC Test Engineer, Test and Characterization Engineer, Test Engineer, Product/Test Engineer, Product Engineer and so on. Based on what I know about Wedel's background, I believe he could do many of these jobs. But I also believe it's likely some of these are being filled by H-1Bs (young ones, naturally).
TI, of course, would say that Wedel is "overqualified" for those jobs (read, "too old/expensive"), while he is UNDERqualified for all the other jobs. Doesn't leave much, does it?
Why am I so irritated by this blame-the-Indians business? First, of course, it's unfair and inaccurate, just plain scapegoating. But much more importantly, it leads to bad legislation, such as Lofgren's IDEA Act. Lofgren's "reforms" are targeted at the Indian firms, in all but name, while she would give automatic green cards to foreign STEM students, hired by the "Good Guys"—which again, I must point out includes that very same Texas Instruments that laid Darin Wedel off.