Dr. Norm Matloff writes, to his H-1B/L-1/offshoring e-newsletter:
For years we've been hearing from the industry lobbyists that American kids can't do math, can't do science, consider tech careers unappealing, avoid math and science majors like the plague when they go to college, etc.—all resulting in a shortage of engineers. The actual data have never supported these claims, and the extremely thorough study by Hal Salzman and Lindsay Lowell a couple of years ago ought to have put them to rest once and for all. But lobbyists are paid the big bucks because they are exceedingly good at what they do, and the politicians believe the claims, which for example figured heavily in President Obama's State of the Union Address this year. (See here.)
Yet, without fully realizing it, Texas Instruments V.P. for HR Darla Whitaker has now essentially admitted that all that "Johnnie Can't Do Math" stuff was just slick PR. At the October 5 the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held a hearing titled, "STEM the Tide: Should America Try to Prevent an Exodus of Foreign Graduates of U.S. Universities with Advanced Science Degrees?", Ms. Whitaker stated that TI has plenty of engineering applicants with Bachelor's degrees, and thus does not hire foreign workers at that level. She stated TI does hire H-1Bs, and sponsors them for green cards, at the Master's and PhD levels, where she says there is a shortage.
This naturally led one of the congresspeople on the committee to ask Whitaker, why don't the American engineering students go on to grad school? She replied that she supposed that the American students were anxious to get out and start making money.
The committee member didn't ask the obvious followup question: Well, why isn't TI taking proactive measures to get more of those Americans to pursue graduate study? Whitaker had stated that TI has myriad programs at the K-12 level to get more kids into the engineering pipeline, clearly an odd statement on two counts:
1. Didn't she say there are plenty of Americans studying engineering at the Bachelor's level? Then why all this talk about the "pipeline"?
2. Why is TI sponsoring numerous programs to increase flow into the "pipeline," yet is NOT SPONSORING EVEN ONE (according to her list, at least) to get American engineering students to continue their studies after their Bachelor's degrees?
During the Dot Com Boom, Intel came to meet with our department, asking what they could do to help us. We replied that Intel could help us get more of our students to pursue graduate study. This could range anywhere from Intel spending a bit of money, by sponsoring some graduate fellowships, to no-cost actions such as coming to address our undergraduate Computer Science Club about the importance of grad school. Intel refused to take even the latter simple, costless action.
The obvious conclusion would seem to be that TI and Intel simply aren't interested in having more Americans get Master's degrees and PhDs.
On the contrary, the large influx of foreign students at the graduate level (for various reasons I won't go into here, the figures are proportionately much lower for undergraduates) holds down salaries at that level, as pointed out by the National Science Foundation paper I've cited so much. It also holds down teaching and research assistant stipends for grad students. Meanwhile, universities hire their own H-1Bs. No wonder industry and academia love these foreign worker programs.
By the way, the term industry includes the financial sector. I noticed that in All the Devils Are Here the tell-all of the financial crash by McLean and Nocera, it mentions on p.123,"At both Moody's and S&P, former employees say there was a move away from hiring people with backgrounds in credit and toward hiring recent business school graduates or foreigners with green cards [sic] to keep costs down."
I think the authors misunderstood, and the foreign workers were actually being sponsored by the employers for green cards, not that the workers already had green cards. I've noted often that H-1B is about age, a vehicle for avoiding hiring older Americans; the firms hire young H-1Bs when they run out of young Americans (or often without running out).
Getting back to TI, one of Ms. Whitaker's predecessors also seemed to divulge a bit more than he had intended, back in 1999. A DPE report noted:
In a candid moment, Roger Cooker, director of staffing at Texas Instruments Company — one of the nation's largest high tech firms — told U.S. News and World Report (August 30, 1999) that H-1B workers are part of their strategy to keep down the wages of engineers and other high tech workers.
And here is an example of a TI green card sponsoree highlighted by a couple of years ago by last week's hearing panelist Vivek Wadhwa (They're Taking Their Brains and Going Home, By Vivek Wadhwa, Washington Post, March 8, 2009 ):
Like many Indians, Girija Subramaniam is fed up. After earning a master's in electrical engineering from the University of Virginia in 1998, she joined Texas Instruments as a test engineer. She wanted to stay in the United States, applied for permanent residency in 2002 and has been trapped in immigration limbo ever since. If she so much as accepts a promotion or, heaven forbid, starts her own company, she will lose her place in line. Frustrated, she has applied for fast-track Canadian permanent residency and expects to move north of the border by the end of the year.
A test engineer! Not R&D, just testing. This type of job is considered mundane, ho-hum, just plain boring. Does TI really need to sponsor people for green cards to do this, can't find any Americans? Or is it TI simply can't find young ones, at a price TI wants to pay? You be the judge.
Concerning the rest of the hearing, there is an excellent Web page here including the witnesses' written statements and a video of the hearing. The latter is even downloadable, much appreciated.
Other than the TI testimony, there was not much of interest. Lindsay Lowell spoke of H-1B as divided into "good actors and bad actors," with the latter needing extra auditing. I was quite disappointed to hear him say these things, as I strongly disagree; as I've shown, quantitatively and otherwise, abuse of H-1B is (a) widespread, including the top household name U.S. firms, and (b) is usually done in full compliance with the law.
Mr. Nassirian was extremely sharp and insightful, a gentleman of the old school. Unfortunately, his remarks amounted to saying that any university that receives federal research funds should count as qualifying for the auto-green cards, backing up Rep. Lofgren's views. She says there are about 200 such schools, which she presents as a small number but of course would produce a huge number of recipients of those auto-green cards.
We don't have a shortage of tech workers, as even Wadhwa has found in his own research, and as Whitaker unwittingly agreed to a surprising extent. That's a good reason NOT to pass legislation to get the foreign grads to stay here, especially given the age issue. Most recipients of auto-green cards would be young, greatly exacerbating the rampant age discrimination in the tech industry (which Wadhwa has also written about). Good for Ms. Subramaniam for finding a job, and I'm sure she's a good worker, but it's wrong for TI to hire her so as to avoid hiring the 35-year-old Americans.