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Dr. Norm Matloff: Don Tennant calls for abolition of H-1B
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June 09, 2011, 06:26 AM
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Dr. Norm Matloff writes
Don Tennant is certainly one of the most astute journalists around who write occasionally about H-1B. I must say, though, that I disagree with most things he`s written in the enclosed blog.

That last sentence should surprise, maybe even shock, those who`ve already read the blog, and indeed startle Don himself. His posting title, after all, is "I Was Wrong—The H-1B Visa Program Must Be Abolished"! Hey, what`s not to like?

Well, first of all, even I have never called for abolition of the H-1B program. I do believe that 95% of the employers, definitely including the big mainstream U.S. firms, abuse the program, using it for cheap labor. But if it were used for the original purpose it had back in the old H-1 days, to bring in the world`s best and the brightest, that`s fine with me. As I`ve always said, the key is to remove the loopholes—including allowing employers to hire young H-1Bs instead of over-35 Americans. Without the loopholes, it would revert to the tiny program it was when it first began.

Second, what is Don`s proposal for the replacement of H-1B? Since he prominently quotes activist Roy Lawson, who seems to be supporting the proposals for automatic green cards for foreign students graduating from U.S. universities (and who has explicitly called for that before, I believe), I have to presume that Don supports that notion too. As I`ve explained many times, I strongly disagree. The same programmers and engineers who are finding their employment opportunities reduced by the presence of H-1Bs will find that those new foreign grads clutching their newly-minted automatic green cards will have exactly the same effect.

The reason—once again—is that H-1B is fundamentally about AGE. Yet, the employers do tend to pay young H-1Bs less than comparable young Americans, but the employers` main interest in H-1B is to avoid hiring the older (age 35!) American workers. A program granting automatic green cards to new foreign grads of U.S. universities would be definition give the cards to the young.

Third, I cannot understand why a shrewd guy like Don would write, "I remain blown away by the fact the 60 percent of the finalists in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search competition are the children of parents who came to the United States on H-1B visas." As I explained here recently (Whiz Kids 2) and in much more detail a few years ago (The Whiz Kids), these science fairs don`t mean much.

What is going on—and anyone who lives in the Chinese/Indian immigrant communities has known this for years—is that a number of H-1Bs absolutely love competition, especially for their kids, especially as a steppingstone to MIT or the Ivy League. The kids who win these things work amazingly hard, but in most cases they are NOT doing original science; they`re working on problems given to them by university researchers, with the kids mainly doing the legwork. Good for the kids, but one should NOT conclude that the kids are brilliant scientists.

Success in these contests is typically due to a combination of (a) a connection to a good university researcher who knows how to choose a problem a teenager can work on, (b) extreme, single-minded dedication, and (c) the ability to explain things well to judges. Nothing wrong with (a), (b) and (c), but again my point is that it is almost a "formula," and indeed there is now a book on it, Success with Science: the Winners` Guide to High School Research, written by several former winners now in college, complete with chapters with titles like "Impressing Your Mentor." Read some specific examples of prizewinning kids (not from the book), here to see what I mean.

Don continues: "I see absolutely no reason to try to discredit that competition or those findings as a means of discrediting the H-1B program." I`ve been fortunate that Don has (I believe) reciprocated the very high respect I have for him, so I assume that his remark isn`t aimed at me, but I feel I must state something anyway: I will continue to "discredit" these science fairs even if Don`s wish to abolish H-1B is somehow granted. It`s not an H-1B issue.

I believe that these fairs, at least in the form they`ve evolved to, are actually destructive. They just send to wrong messages to kids. They have become the "Little League-ization" of science. They do not improve our nation`s prowess in science (the typical goals of these kids, by the way, is careers as physicians, not scientists), but in my opinion do exactly the opposite. True heroes of science don`t need or want books that explain "how to impress your mentor."

I`ll be writing a much more detailed post on this subject when I get a chance.

Norm

Don Tennant`s post is reproduced in Matloff`s email:
Don Tennant

I Was Wrong — The H-1B Visa Program Must Be Abolished

Posted by Don Tennant Jun 6, 2011 9:35:59 PM

In the 10 years or so that I`ve been writing about the H-1B visa program, I have steadfastly argued that despite rampant abuse of the system, the positive contributions of many, many people here on H-1B visas warrant continued support of the program. I was wrong. The H-1B visa program needs to be abolished.

It has long been my view that our focus should be on fighting abuse of the program, rather than on fighting for its annihilation. I have been so sickened for so long by the hatefulness of anti-H-1B fanatics who have capitalized on the issue to spew anti-foreigner venom that I was compelled to find every reason I could to support what they hate. I have argued for years that the hatefulness is horribly damaging to the effort to fix the H-1B program, and I feel as strongly about that now as I ever have. But what I have come to recognize is that the H-1B program in irreparable. So I was wrong to support its continued existence.

It wasn`t an easy conclusion to come to. I remain humbled and inspired by the examples set by many families whose outstanding accomplishments here have been made possible by the H-1B program. I remain blown away by the fact the 60 percent of the finalists in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search competition are the children of parents who came to the United States on H-1B visas, and I see absolutely no reason to try to discredit that competition or those findings as a means of discrediting the H-1B program. I remain blown away by the stories of people like Dan Simpelo, a high school senior in New City, N.Y., whose family came here from the Philippines four years ago, and whose father had come here two years earlier on an H-1B visa. Dan, whose first language is not English, was the valedictorian of his graduating class of 390 seniors. It`s very difficult for me to call for the abolition of a visa program that has made stories like that possible. But I had no choice.

What changed for me is that finally — finally — the voice of reason has drowned out the voice of hate. There`s no better example than the string of hundreds of reader comments that were contributed in response to my recent post, "Will H-1B Visa Holders Feel the Pain of Impending Cisco Layoffs?" Yes, that reader commentary was spiked with the requisite bickering and mean-spiritedness that have marred the discussion on both sides all along. But what predominated was reasoned, compelling, substantiated information contributed by knowledgeable, thoughtful individuals whose inclination is to challenge and document abuse of the program rather than deride and lambast the individuals who hold the visas the program has created.

One of the most reasoned, sensible and articulate voices in opposition to the H-1B program has been that of Roy Lawson, a software developer in Florida who regularly contributes his commentary to the postings here. He made several comments in response to the aforementioned post, none more important than the one in which he conveyed this viewpoint:

I believe [the H-1B program] is flawed beyond repair, and as such it needs to be abolished in favor of something smarter. I believe that corporations should not be immigration middle-men. Immigration is about something much more pure and sacrosanct than corporate profits. I believe it needs to be abolished in favor of permanent immigration, self sponsorship as opposed to corporate sponsorship, the favoring of relatives (families) over new immigrants, and sustainable numbers. I would limit new immigration to 25% of net job gains each year. In years where we have job loss, I would restrict immigration. Finally, certainly more people would apply than we have openings for. I would make the acceptance based on merit, not first come or a lottery. ... My case is about economics and national interest, and has nothing to do with race. In fact, I want greater protections for immigrants. I believe the reason they are so easily exploited is because of corporate sponsorship. Green cards (in sustainable numbers) would make them equal players in the labor market. An H-1b visa amounts to second class labor and corporate sponsorship gives companies leverage against your wages and salary. This hurts you directly and it hurts us indirectly - because we now must compete against workers who are easily exploited.
While some of his points are fodder for additional legitimate debate, in essence, Roy is right. I want to express my thanks to him and to all of the other readers who have worked so diligently to make the anti-H-1B argument not only in a way that is convincing, but in a way that upholds the principles of honor, compassion, fairness and decency that our country stands for. I`m proud to join you in opposition to the H-1B program.