Jeremy Beck's picture

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  by  Jeremy Beck

There's an interesting conversation happening on Tech Raptor about Silicon Valley.
In "There Is No Diversity Crisis In Tech," Brian Hall writes:

"Silicon Valley is not perfect. It's certainly no utopia. But if you aren't able to make it here, it's almost certainly not because of any bias. Rather, on your refusal to put in the hard work in the hard classes, and to accept all the failures that happen before you achieve any amazing success."

Last year, USA Today ran "Tech jobs: Minorities have degrees, but don't get hired," by Elizabeth Weise and Jessica Guynn who reported: "Top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them."

Jesse Jackson has accused Silicon Valley of a "Magic Kingdom mentality"  for bringing in H-1B workers when American women and minorities have the talent to do the jobs. 

Hall argues that those criticisms are unfair: 

"{Silicon Valley is} probably the most open, welcoming, meritocratic-based region on the planet. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that disproportionately more Chinese, Indians, and LGBQT succeed in Silicon Valley than just about any place in America. Guess what? Everyone earned their job because of their big brains and ability to contribute."

There cannot be a crisis, Hall argues, when Silicon Valley is  "swimming in money and success."

Hall's column originally ran on Forbes but was removed for unexplained reasons. That controversy has overshadowed Hall's contention that Silicon Valley is a place where anyone who puts in the work and has the talent can thrive.

My question is: What do programs like the H-1B visa tell us about meritocracy in Silicon Valley?

Some of the Silicon Valley giants lobby for more guest workers even as they lay off Americans. The majority of H-1B visas are granted to guest workers who fall into the lowest of four skill categories according to the Government Accountability Office.

Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times argues:

"...high-tech employers such as Qualcomm, Google, Microsoft and Facebook lobby hard for more latitude in employing workers on H-1B visas. These are designed to serve high-skilled immigrants but often enable the importing of Indian and Chinese guest workers to replace an older, more experienced, but more expensive domestic workforce."

The practice isn't limited to Silicon Valley. Companies like DisneyToys 'R' UsSouthern California EdisonNortheast Utilities, and Fossil have all made news in the past year for laying off their American workers and having them train their foreign replacements. 

But Silicon Valley has a reputation of rewarding the best and the brightest. That reputation has taken some hits over the years. In "Do visas for skilled foreigners shut out U.S. tech workers?" Kyung M. Song and Janet I. Tu, reported for the Seattle Times in 2013:

"A former Microsoft product manager....was one of 1,400 people cut from the payroll in January 2009 as part of Microsoft’s first-ever companywide layoffs in the recession. The supervisors who eliminated her position were here on visas, as were two recent hires in her work group who dodged the downsizing. Three weeks later, Artech Information Systems, a staffing firm, offered the product manager a three-month contract at Microsoft for what was essentially the same job she had left. The pay was $32 an hour, half her old salary."

Ron Hira and Daniel Costa of the Economic Policy Institute say "The payoff for replacing American workers with indentured and underpaid H-1B guestworkers is simply too high: as much as a 49 percent wage savings in some cases."

Corporations, they say, are acting "rationally -- and usually lawfully -- by exploiting the program’s loopholes" for easy profit.

Hall doesn't weigh in on the guest worker controversies, but he does agree that Silicon Valley corporations are prospering: 

Apple has $200 billion in cash reserves and equivalents — and a market valuation of about $630 billion. Amazing. Facebook now garners a billion daily users. This is a nearly unfathomable number. Google is worth nearly $450 billion and has $70 billion in cash on hand.

It is a shame that Forbes removed Hall's column. Part of the American mythos is that anyone can make it if they put in the hard work. Hall believes those values are alive and well in Silicon Valley. Others point to Big Tech's use of guest worker programs and disagree. This is a conversation that deserves more attention.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA

Tags:  
High-skilled Americans

Updated: Thu, Jun 8th 2017 @ 3:31pm EDT

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