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Lame article but at least we’re getting somewhere

Check out this article at the NYTimes about the impact of the H1B visa increase on tech workers.  A Bill Allowing More Foreign Workers Stirs a Tech Debate gives me mixed feelings about the state of journalism.  It feels like the author is starting to ask the right questions and is no longer simply accepting the business community’s excuse that it can’t find good help anymore but he/she isn’t going quite far enough.  I only regret that journalism majors aren’t required to take a bunch of science courses so they could figure this one out.

Here’s the thing the author is missing: if a business brings in cheap foreign labor to do its heavy lifting in science and math and tech, that business still has to train those workers.  Oh, yeah. You don’t think they come off the boat knowing how to create the perfect data tables or design drugs do you?  F^&* no.  That takes practice.  Ask anyone who’s actually done the work.  In fact, for the pharma industry, it takes at least one good, long lasting project before you get the hang of what the hell’s going on and one project could easily stretch on for several years before it’s killed in some bloody MBA massacre.

As for older tech workers who have not been able to keep their skills fresh, that’s certainly true if you don’t have a job.  Just getting our hands on papers is a logistical and economical nightmare.  The ACS charges $35.00 for 48 hours of access to a single paper and when you are not affiliated with a lab or college, that kind of money is just nuts.  As a result, the unemployed can’t keep up with changes that are happening rapidly in their fields. That’s why so many of us will take part time work, or adjunct work or no pay at all.  But it *IS* possible to teach old dogs new tricks.  I learned structural biology and molecular biology lab techniques in my last year of work.  Was I perfect?  No, but I was able to do my job and correct my mistakes, and since I really enjoyed my work, I was looking forward to getting better at it.  I was about on par with a H1B visa worker with one year of experience in structural bio when the layoff happened.  Plus, I was able to translate what I learned in the lab to my drug design work, which was the real bonus in my move back to the lab.  Frankly, I don’t know why more labs don’t try retraining but they don’t.   Since it’s not the ability to learn new things that prevents older tech workers from being retained, it must be something else, right?

And relocating.  The author says that the H1B visa workers add to the higher salaries in the economy where they are employed.  But the reason why businesses are bringing them in is because they are cheaper than the people they are displacing.  So, I don’t think I buy this, or anyway, it’s relative to what the local economy was before the massive layoffs.  But if high tech/biotech companies really want to save money, they could abandon the coasts for the midwest from whence many of them came.  It’s cheaper to live here and there is this thing called the internet.  I guarantee, your researchers won’t miss a thing.  They won’t miss out on seminars and new information as long as there is wifi.  They won’t miss the outrageous cost of housing and, believe it or not, they have Starbucks, Thai food and all the Broadway touring shows you can eat.  There is culture and music and all kinds of things to keep you entertained.  There are colleges and universities that are not called Harvard or Stanford out here.  It’s true.  They even teach real educational stuff and have research facilities.  So, verily I say unto the huddled masses yearning to breathe free in Cambridge, MA, go west!

There is no good reason for the biotechs to be spending money holed up in Massachusetts and South San Francisco, forcing their workers into more and more precarious existences and stressing them when they should be thinking about science.  Since the trend is to keep following the herd to these outrageously expensive places to live in search of get rich quick schemes, then I can only conclude that good science is not the goal with the H1B visa quota.  Cheap, exploitable labor is.  In other words, the MBA class will do whatever it’s allowed to do until someone tells them it’s not allowable anymore.

So, kudos to the NYTimes for looking into the problem but you need to keep digging.

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4 Responses

  1. Since the suits have to show their faces one in a while they figure it might as well be in a toni area on the coasts. After all the yachts don’t do too well navigating on the Ohio or the Mississippi.

  2. Riverdaughter,

    Thanks for covering the H1-B news, seems hardly anyone else is.

    Do you know if flooding more H1-Bs, &/or making any foreign MS or PhD US grad eligible for green card application, are these policies going to be rolled into the general “immigration reform” bill?

    It seems like either policy (more H1-B or MS automatic green card) are a huge problem that should evoke outrage in the news from the public, especially given the horrible job market 2008-13, but I don’t see it being mentioned at all, even on progressive internet sites like firedoglake. In other words I worry that the DC bipartisan oligarchic whore block (Obama, John Boner, etc) may be successful in sneaking this through, where the tried the same action with the Grand Ripoff/slash social insurance but failed.

    If the plutocrats really believed their free market idea they push, the worker-visa immigration system would be something like this:

    1 100K people for year. Note the individual AND all family members such as spouse, children, etc count as 1 person towards the 100K persons. So if a immigrant worker has a spouse & 2 kids, that’s 4 spots. Hey if the worker is such a superstar talent, employer you pay for it.

    2 The visa can be used for any job, whether it’s a unprotected low skill job like an agricultural worker, union/cartel protected high skill job like a physician, or unprotected high-skill job like a STEM pro (biochemist, software engineer, etc).

    3 Employers can make bids on price & quantity of the annual visa fee. The top 100K bids would be accepted. From what I understand, this type of process already exists from the US Treasury for auctioning new Treasury bonds/notes, they should just similarly use such an auction system.

    4 The minimum pay must be at least be greater than the median wage. To make it harder for the plutocrats’ lobbyists & pols to game the system, it could be set to a multiple of the minimum wage, say 4X the current $7.25 min wage = $29/hr = $60.32K/yr. Hey again, if you employers cry you NEED the visa so much, you pay for it. So whether a corporate tomato mega-farm for ag workers, a hospital looking for cardiologists, or a pharma company looking for biochemist pharma researchers wants to “load up the truck” on foreign workers, they can do so, but they must pay the visa fee(s) & at least the minimum salary accordingly.

    PS: the concept of “there are certain jobs Americans won’t do” is a blatant lie. It’s about pay & working conditions, if “you pay them they will come”, ala “The Field of Dreams” movie.

    Thought experiment: what if the physician market was flooded like STEM pro workers or ag workers. The “jobs Americans won’t do” lobbyists would say “physician is such a dirty job Americans won’t do. Think of proctologists, that’s literally a dirty job sticking your hand in a sick diseased person’s anus all day”. Hell I suppose any job could be considered a dirty job by focusing on the worst aspects of it, & any good job could be made a dirty job via flooding the employment market & treating existing workers atrociously or a disposable commodities to be mistreated for 1-15 years & then abandoned. “US Senator is such a dirty job. You must be a metaphorically whore yourself to plutocrats begging for campaign money for 4+ hrs daily. Then you must repeatedly lie to Jane Q. Public claiming you will push policy that will help their lives”.

    • I am surprised that so few lefty types have been covering the H1B visa problem but I think that’s because so many A listers are partisan Democrats and right now, partisan Democrats want to pass immigration reform, for all kinds of really good, humanitarian reasons. So, they seem to be willing to throw STEM workers under the bus to get that. After all, many of us were/are Pharma people and everyone hates Pharma because, well, they don’t really understand pharma and the difference between the researchers and the MBAs who run the means of production. Why, yes, it *is* an uphill battle.

      I’ve heard a couple of suggestions on how we can prevent US companies from taking advantage of cheap exploitable, indentured foreign labor. One is to have the H1B visa expire after one year to be immediately replaced with a Green Card. You should be able to tell after one year whether the foreign worker is what you need. I’m in favor of this. The other is that the Green Card is open ended. No more of this shit where the Green Card is only good for just one specific kind of job and if you lose that job, you can’t just work at Walmart as a greeter until you land a new one in your field. If you get a Green Card, you should be considered a permanent resident on the way to citizenship and therefore, entitled to get a job in ANY field, like Wall Street analyst, for example. That’s what I’d really like to see, Wall Street filled to the brim with lots of foreign workers who will work until they drop for half the pay of their American Ivy League trained overly confident snobby counterparts.

      I’m guessing that it would only take a couple of months before the bankers lobbied to have H1B visa program shelved indefinitely.

      • Let’s also remember, the biggest consumers of tech visa’s [and H1-B is the tip of the iceberg], are also the SAME corporations which hide their US earnings offshore and pay only tiny portion of their taxes through fraud.

        However, I’d let them have as many tech visa’s as their greedy little asses want…with the provision that they be paid 1.5X’s the prevailing AVERAGE WAGE of the respective field and they be paid 1.5X’s OT for all hours over 40hrs per week. Punishment for fraud is to be a federal offense, top corporate officer in HR, Financial, executive [judged by pay rate] are to face a minimum of 3 yrs without the possibility of payroll.

        Since everything is on the up and up this won’t change anything according to the testimony given to congress. Ha..Ha..Ha.

        FYI, this site covers this subject thoroughly:

        http://www.economicpopulist.org/

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