Dr. Norm Matloff On ComputerWorld, ITGrunt, and Tunnel Rat
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December 29, 2009, 02:26 AM
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Dr. Norm Matloff writes on some of the issues raised in Rob Sanchez`s piece, H-1B Bodyshop vs. U.S. First Amendment: The Case Of "Tunnel Rat".
Computerworld has been covering H-1B and related issues quite thoroughly since 1999. The editor at that time was skeptical when he saw the industry lobbyists screaming that there was a tech labor shortage, as his wife couldn`t get a job as a teacher even while the Boston-area papers were claiming a teacher shortage.

Here I`ll comment on two items, one by recent Computerworld Editor-in-Chief Don Tennant and the other a new article in the publication. (To save time, I`m just including URLs, which is just as well as there are interesting links on these sites.)

I`ve praised Tennant in this e-newsletter for being open-minded in spite of having, I surmise, come in to the H-1B topic with biases in favor of the program. I believe he originally bought into the "best and brightest" claims of the industry lobbyists, which as I`ve shown before apply only to a very small percentage of foreign tech workers. See my earlier comments here and here.

In a recent pair of blog postings, the second of which is here, Tennant wonders why he hears of workers in the tech field advising their children not to pursue tech careers. After all, Tennant says, even a generous accounting would find that only 35% of IT workers are H-1Bs, which leaves 65%, i.e. plenty of jobs.

I`ll use that 35% figure here for ease of exposition (it`s an overestimate for many reasons). But Tennant is missing the point in several different ways:

  • That 35% doesn`t include FORMER H-1B workers who now have green cards. To be sure, I`ve always said they should be protected just like the natives, but the point is that if there had not been a H-1B program most of them would not be in the current labor market.
  • The 35% figure is large in terms of its dampening effect on IT wages. Some of you may recall that even the mainly pro-industry NRC report in 2000 made the same observation.
  • The 35% figure is large in that it enables employers to shun the older (age 35+) American workers. (Which renders irrelevant Tennant`s comment about jobs opening as baby boomers retire.)
  • IT is a very, very broad field. Only a minority of IT jobs are typically filled by computer science graduates (the field Tennant cites), BUT H-1Bs almost exclusively work in such jobs. In other words, the impact on CS grads of the H-1B program is much more acute than on IT jobs as a whole.
The notion that children of tech workers are shunning tech fields is real. Even if the parents actually encourage their kids to go into tech, the kids have seen up close how unstable the field is, and how vulnerable it is to H-1B and offshoring. Note that THIS IS THE CASE EVEN IF THE PARENTS ORIGINALLY CAME HERE AS H-1BS OR FOREIGN STUDENTS. The Wall Street Journal even did a piece on this; see here.

The second item I`ll discuss here is the current Computerworld article, Court orders three H-1B sites disabled | Judge`s ruling to shut down three opposition sites is part of Apex libel lawsuit By Patrick Thibodeau December 28, 2009.

Reportedly an H-1B worker publicly ratted on his employer Apex, an Indian body shop, for making him sign a contract which illegally bound him to indentured servitude. "IT Grunt," who anonymously operates Web sites critical of H-1B, references the worker`s Web page. Apex is now suing ITG for allegedly defaming the firm, and has gotten a judge to temporarily shut down part of ITG`s Web operations.

To me it does seem reasonable to shut a site down, pending litigation, if there is reasonable evidence of defamation. But I don`t think there is much evidence of that, raising the possibility that this is just a nuisance lawsuit against critics of H-1B, in which case one wonders how the judge decided the way he did. In addition, this could open quite a Pandora`s Box, with those who`ve posted on the site possibly subject to exposure.

I would add, though, that to me this shows once again how the anti-H-1B activists are shooting themselves in the foot by concentrating on (a) violations of the law and (b) Indian "body shops" (rent-a-programmer businesses). As I`ve said before, (a) is the wrong way to go, because most abuses of the H-1B program and fully legal uses of loopholes, and (b) is wrong because the mainstream firms are just as culpable as the Indian body shops.