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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.

The foreign STEM worker’s revenge

Note: Corrente is having an end-of-year fundraiser!  Check it out.  They are some really decent people over at Corrente including Lambert, DCBlogger, Letsgetitdone and CoyoteCreek.  There are some people who make me think, “bloggers, you can’t live without them and you can’t give them a wedgie.”.  But that’s all good, right?  How much fun would blogging be if it was all just one big echo chamber and no one disagreed or raised their voices?  It would be like spending eternity with a bunch of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  So, keep your blogosphere JW free and contribute to Corrente today!

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Avedon Carol posted this today:

Congress Betrays The U.S. STEM Worker Once Again: “The House of Representatives is out to destroy the American Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Professional. Republicans passed H.R. 6429 with the oxymoron title, STEM Jobs Act of 2012. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and this bill gives 55,000 foreigners a year who graduate from an American university with a Masters or PhD in these fields an employment sponsored green card. ” They’d rather have guest workers rather than Americans in jobs.

Avedon, thank you so much for being one of the first bloggers on the left who even acknowledges that there are about 100,000 unemployed, highly trained STEM professionals who are out of work right now.  I have been trying to get through to some of thick skulls on our side of the aisle for almost 4 years now and they have either been in denial or lifted their snooty liberal noses in the air because they don’t like what we do for a living, i.e. save their asses with our research.

But it’s not the Green Card holders I’m worried about.  It’s the people who come here on HIB visas who can only work here as long as their companies sponsor them.  I have known people who worked in research for years who couldn’t get a green card.  Once their companies laid them off, they had to go back to their country of origin even if they had settled down and bought houses and had excellent work records.  Even *with* a green card, a researcher is at risk of being sent home if the green card is narrowly restricted.  For example, a green card holder might be able to get one to work only in the particular position for which they were hired.  If their company lays them off, they have to find a similar position or they can’t work in this country. They can’t just become a greeter at Walmart. If they can’t find an almost identical job within a certain period of time, they have to start the application process all over again, which means going back home, going on parole, all kinds of unpleasant and economically disastrous things.

By the way, here is a word of warning to the visa holders out there who applied for a green card years ago but whose company bureaucracy seems to be sitting on the application.  If you can’t get them to move on your application it’s probably because the company isn’t planning to keep your site open.  But they can’t come right out and say that because that might induce panic at the site.  So, instead, your application sits in no-man’s land.  They’re planning to milk you for all you’re worth and then lay you off.  What happens to you after that is YOUR problem.  Get your affairs in order and don’t buy that house.

I don’t know whether Congress is going to fix this.  You’re absolutely right that we don’t need to further cripple the ability of American STEM workers to find jobs. Right now, there isn’t a shortage.  Nope, not even a little bit.  We are fairly bursting at the seams with over educated, technically proficient STEM professionals who are all dressed up with no place to go.  The companies whine about a skills gap that is non-existent.  What I and my fellow unemployed STEM professionals have found is that these companies want a person straight out of school with 25 years of experience.  In other words, they desperately need experienced people but they have no intention of paying for it.  So, they are assuming that cheap foreign grad students will be able to pick up the slack and if it doesn’t work out, well, it’s only a green card. Let them try to find work at another company.  That will keep them from getting notions of dignity above their station.  Right?  You know I am.

But here’s the thing, Avedon.  I know many, many foreign researchers who come here, get a Green Card and as quickly as possible, convert that to citizenship, which is how it should work.  We should welcome the people who intend to stay.  Then, they become ferocious tiger parents and their kids graduate at the top of their classes.  But those kids are just as likely to go compete for jobs – on Wall Street.

Yep.  In fact, those Chinese, Indian and Russian graduate students in molecular biology and physics could be the brand new recruits for Goldman Sachs.  It’s not unheard of.  I know several people who decided that research was unrewarding and economically unstable.  No one appreciates what we do. They decided to leave science to get into hedge funds.  And their kids are going to go where the money is. I already know many Asian parents who are steering their children in that direction. The “Jahb creators” might think of them stereotypically as hard working, no drama Chinese (they greatly underestimate them) but they are not naive pushovers.

And why shouldn’t Lloyd Blankfein replace his little group of overpaid WASPs to work the front office when he’ll have more than enough brilliant, aggressive recruits who not only speak perfectly unaccented English but a fair bit of Mandarin too?  Talk about asymmetric information, you have no idea how much you’re missing until you’re surrounded by the Chinese underground every day.

So, while I’m not happy about this bill, because the premise upon which it is built, that we need more STEM workers, is absolutely not true.  But if they’re coming, I’d rather give them a green card with zero restrictions than a visa.  And then, I’m just going to sit back and watch them take over the world.

Bwahahahahahahhhhhh!

As for the Congresspeople and Senators who voted for this stupid bill that will keep many Americans, including naturalized Asian American researchers, out of work permanently, I think we STEM workers should compile a list of names.  Maybe some of us should run against you or at least point our fingers in your direction and proclaim loudly to everyone we know and our children that you put us out of work and killed American science by giving in to the greedy lobbyists who have no appreciation for what it means to do actual research.

Now, can we talk about who clueless twit Marcia Angell is working for?

Are you going to Occupy Wall Street’s Global Day of Action?

The title is a trick question.  You don’t have to go anywhere to participate in Occupy Wall Street’s Global Day of Action.  You can get attention right where you are by soaping your car windows with a big “99%” or by Occupying the Block with Chalk.

But the more of us that participate, in person, to tell our stories of what has happened to us since Wall Street gambled our lives away and pressured our employers to get rid of us, the more of a lasting impression we will have.

And, yes, I’m talking to the chemists and biologists who have lost their careers, livelihoods and middle class status when their jobs were shipped overseas.  Imagine how much of an impression it will make if we all show up wearing our labcoats and goggles. *I* know how many of us there are and *you* know how many of us there are, but virtually no one outside of our industry has any idea how many of us there are. If your company closed down your site, what have you got to lose?

Today, I’m heading up to Zuccotti Park to participate.  Click here for a schedule of events.  I will be blogging the day, provided I can get a good signal.  You can also follow events through twitter at #N17, #OWS or #OccupyWallSt.  I’ll be twittering at #riverdaughter.

I plan to take the train up to Manhattan and since I’m now on unemployment, I’d like to ask you to help sponsor my trip.  Your sponsorship will allow me to hop on the train to NYC from Central New Jersey.  Round trip is $28.00. Also, if I get arrested, bail would be nice even if you think it might be nicer to leave RD in jail for awhile to get a real inside look at what it means to be an activist troublemaker.  Consider it a business expense.  If you’d like to help me get to New York City today, and in the future if the Occupation has other events there, see the PayPal button below or in the left sidebar.  In honor of today’s events, a recommended donation is $11.17.  I don’t know what to expect as far as these things go but I’d like to say “Thanks!” in advance to anyone who chips in.  In return, I promise to represent you well, take lots of pictures and let your little light shine on the Brooklyn Bridge tonight.

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