Intel Lobbies For More Corporate Welfare
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The Washington Post is once again doing their job of helping their advertisers look good. This is from their latest infomercial with pretenses to journalism: "The writer is chairman of Intel Corp., which employs about 2,000 employees with H-1B visas among its 86,000 workers worldwide."[ A Talent Contest We’re Losing By Craig Barrett, December 23, 2007]

Now, Intel is a of course a large, multi-national corporation with a market cap of around $143 Billion. Intel has traditionally had a near monopoly on large sections of the microprocessor market. Now their managers want to increase that market cap by any means possible.

Policies like H-1b are significantly important to helping Intel's bottom line. The H-1b visas that Intel is currently using have a market value of at least $200 Million. The thing is, that market value is quite a bit less than the theoretic value of the US permanent residency and citizenship these visas provide a gateway towards. About 50% of H-1b holders eventually stay in the US.

Basically H-1b gives companies like Intel the ability to provide something valuable to its employees at no cost to the corporation itself. The employee benefits. The corporation benefits. The costs are spread across the American public—and concentrated among those citizens who may have invested heavily in particular forms of human capital—like technical skills.

Now, when the Intel board Chairman of the Board claims that they have 2000 current H-1b workers, he's not explaining the complete dependency of Intel on the H-1b program. I'd guess that at least 5 times as many Intel workers have used that program —or similar programs like the L-1 program or O Visas at one time or another(possibly quite a bit more). The theoretic economic value of those visas would be around $3 Billion. Now that is still a small part of Intel's $143 Billion market cap-but is it is enough for them to notice-and to actively seek.

When reading Craig Barrett's infomercial, view it as essentially a pitch for $3 Billion in pork.

To be competitive in the global economy, U.S. companies depend on specialized talent coming out of U.S. graduate schools. These scientists and engineers are often foreign-born, as more than half of U.S. engineering master's students and PhD recipients are international students.
Most jobs in the US have different wage levels than those that are present in the rest of the world. In recent years, we have had immigration requirements that have been specifically looser for technical occupations with no accompanying increases in incentives for US citizens to enter those occupations. That has meant that US citizens have been reluctant to enter—or stay in -those occupations—to the point this is becoming a potential national security concern.

Now, Intel could afford to pay for a large number of visas at a reasonable price of $300,000 each—plus some bonding requirements (to cover damages if that employee engages in terrorism, or more likely espionage). If Barrett was serious about being a businessman rather than a corporate welfare recipient, he'd be insisting that the US develop a reasonable playing field that would encourage development of US talent—instead of seeking pork at all costs.

Market systems require market pricing. That which is given freely is assumed by men like Barrett to have no value. Simply offering these visas at auction would give Barrett the streamlining he says he wants. However that approach would remove much of the corporate welfare aspect of these visas and would remove much of the control companies like Intel have over H-1b workers.

Now, I have written elsewhere what I think a better comprehensive approach to these visas might be. The sad fact is that most of the world doesn't really develop its technical talent. Any country that chooses to develop technologically will have to do things that aren't really typical on the world stage-and that will make that country quite attractive to people from all over the world. Still, if you look historically, countries in which the mercantile elite dominate governmental policy have a poor long term track record of political stability. Frankly, a government that couldn't run a $600 Billion/year annual trade deficit would rapidly run into big problems listening too much to folks like Craig Barrett—and the US government runs serious dangers by taking men like him, Bill Gates and Larrry Ellison too seriously.

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