Schumer Announces Move Regarding Foreign Workers
July 15, 2009, 04:32 AM
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Dr. Norm Matloff writes:
Though the title of the first enclosed article below includes the word "H-1Bs," I have not included the word in my Subject line above. The reason for my exclusion of the word is that Senator Schumer has not said anything about increasing the H-1B cap, so far as I can tell. There have been news articles on this in the last few weeks, and to my knowledge Schumer has made no public statements in this regard.

The quote included in the Computerworld article linked here,

"We must encourage the world's best and brightest individuals to come to the United States and create new technologies and business that will employ countless American workers, but must discourage businesses from using our immigration laws as a means to obtain temporary and less-expensive foreign labor to replace capable American workers," [Computerworld Analysis: The next H-1B fight begins by Labor Day | Planned legislation could include a way to raise the cap on H-1B visas, By Patrick Thibodeau, July 13, 2009]
would appear to be similar to statements made during the last year by a number of Democrats, including Obama, supporting liberalization of the employment-based green card program. As I've written here many times, I am just as strongly opposed to expansion of the green card program as I am to expansion of H-1B, as both have the effects of reducing job opportunities for U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Moreover, though I definitely support bringing "the world's best and brightest individuals" here, very few of the foreign workers are of that caliber.

So I'm not making the distinction between H-1B visas and green cards in order to say that I support, or at least do not mind, what Schumer is apparently planning to do. Nevertheless it is important to know what those plans are, and I believe the expansionary facets of them will focus on green cards, not H-1Bs.

Of course, the second half of Schumer's comments above is designed to give them impression that he wishes to take strong action to stop abuse of the H-1B program. My guess is that that is not the case at all. Instead, I believe his legislation will simply include provisions to stop fraud rather than abuse, via stepped-up enforcement measures. As I've stated so often, the main problem is loopholes in the law, not fraud, so anti-fraud measures would be of little value.

For example, it is a safe bet that Schumer will not propose that all employers be subject to the restrictions currently imposed on H-1B-dependent employers, such as a requirement that the employer attempt to fill the position with an American before hiring an H-1B. After those were temporarily extended to TARP recipients, i.e. the financial industry, earlier this year, Schumer vowed to overturn that legislation.

It is interesting that Schumer on the one hand claims to be opposed to using foreign workers as cheap labor, while on the other using Greenspan as his star witness, who has stated repeatedly (see the second enclosed article below) that the goal of importing the foreign workers is to keep salaries down. Definitely an "emperor has no clothes" moment.

Greenspan has made such statements many times in the last year or so, and one has to wonder just what he's thinking. The median salary for a mid-career software developer is around $80,000, which while not subsistence-level is not particularly high. New law graduates, using a similar skill set (good analytical and problem-solving abilities, etc.) make $160K. I would assume that Greenspan is just ignorant, rather than flat out lying, but even ignorance would be highly disturbing. As the second article here points out, and as Greenspan himself has said, he had no inkling that the financial industry might implode. This is amazing, since anyone could have understood the danger of selling no-down-payment mortgages to people who can't afford them, selling "insurance" to investors on sliced-and-diced packages of those mortgages, etc.

Some comments on some of the passages in the articles:

One proposal that may get traction in Congress would create an independent commission to manage employment-based visas. The commission would determine whether there are labor shortages and have the authority to make annual adjustments on the cap based on economic need. That idea was pitched by the AFL-CIO in April.
This has been suggested before (including by me), but is likely a political nonstarter. After, the industry—and Schumer himself, as noted above—opposes requiring employers to recruit Americans before hiring H-1Bs, so the industry would certainly not support a commission which would have essentially that same goal. Indeed, an industry lobbyist already criticized the idea in that Associated Press report.  Of course, if somehow such a commission were formed, its members would be people from industry and their allies anyway.
Angela Kelly, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based group that's headed John Podesta, President Clinton's former chief of staff, said an element of any immigration reform bill would have to be its labor protections.

"How do we ensure that by bringing these workers in we're not disadvantaging American workers and how do we invest in our folks for the long haul, so that we've got kids in computer science, math, and engineering programs, which are right now, frankly, dominated by kids who aren't from the U.S. That's the reality and we need to deal with it," she said, in a conference call with reporters.

That is false. For example, only 6% of recipients of bachelor's degrees in computer science are nonresident aliens; see the data from CRA, The large numbers of foreign students occur at the PhD level. But of course Kelly's point about H-1B and offshoring discouraging Americans from studying CS is correct.