Amidst the increasing talk about possible reform of the H-1B guest worker program, lobbyists for the tech industry’s corporate titans are again ramping up their efforts in the media to try and convince the public that the H-1B program enables the world’s “best and brightest” to come to the United States to work STEM jobs that Americans are unable to perform.
Big Tech’s claim that it depends on foreign guest workers has no basis in fact. No independent research (meaning that which is not paid for or subsidized by tech industry money) has ever found a shortage of skilled Americans able to fill STEM jobs, and the routine practice of having Americans already working STEM jobs train their foreign replacements before being laid-off has started to get widespread attention in major media outlets.
An aspect largely neglected in the coverage of the H-1B program is the pipeline that exists to bring foreign students in to study at U.S. universities with tech companies waiting to hire them after graduation, mainly under the Optional Practical Training program, while they apply for H-1B visas. This essentially prevents the hiring of thousands of American graduates in STEM occupations every year.
Dr. Norman Matloff, professor of computer science at the University of California at Davis, has written extensively about how many foreign students studying at universities in the United States are not qualitatively better than their American counterparts. In his words:
…many of the foreign students are weak academically, and are not always models of good behavior….These points have been of increasing concern in U.S. academia. The Chinese students in particular are viewed on the whole as weaker academically and more prone to cheating, according to Wall Street Journal reports, compared to their American peers. Though no data was offered in those articles, my own research has found that the foreign grad students in general, and the Chinese ones in particular, are somewhat weaker than their American peers.
Dr. Matloff holds this view not because he doesn’t think there are some brilliant foreign students of high character studying in the United States. He believes that those who are indeed the best and brightest should be allowed to stay and work, and should be fairly compensated for their skills. He also holds that the increasing number of foreign students at U.S. universities isn’t indicative, as claimed by the tech industry, of a growing reliance on foreign guest workers in STEM industries.
Tech lobbyists claim that the large number of foreign graduates from U.S. universities who return to their home countries is loss to the American labor market that will ultimately cripple the tech industry, which they then cite as the need to “staple a green card” to every graduate degree earned in STEM fields by foreign students. (A position taken by Hillary Clinton in her losing 2016 Presidential campaign).
But arguing that more foreign students are returning overseas doesn’t mean more STEM grads with advanced degrees are leaving the United States, as Dr. Matloff points out:
Until recently, most students from China would come to the U.S. for a Master’s degree, typically in STEM, and then “transition” to a STEM job and a U.S. green card. We still have that, but in recent years, the number of undergraduate students from China has skyrocketed. They are less likely to be studying STEM, less likely to be employable in the U.S., and less likely to have immigration to the U.S. as their goal. So the quoted statistics do not necessarily imply that the return rate for the grad students, i.e. the old figure, has increased.
This focus on non-STEM grads by the tech industry is used to create a false sense of crisis, and to deflect from the fact that many foreign graduate with advanced degrees in STEM are far from the “best and brightest.”
Dr. Matloff’s stance is one shared by most critics of the H-1B program; that it should allow highly-skilled guest workers to work in the United States for salaries commensurate with their true market value, and that it should not continue to allow employers to replace or displace equally or more qualified Americans with less expensive foreign nationals.
I would miss the foreign students if they were to leave en masse. I have often helped highly talented international students and other foreign nationals get jobs in Silicon Valley. But certainly the bar for university admission should be raised somewhat, and in terms of work visas and green cards the bar should be raised quite substantially.
Read Dr. Matloff’s full blog here.
He recently excoriated 60 Minutes for scapegoating Indian outsourcing firms while giving a free pass to U.S. companies doing the same thing; and allowing tech lobbyist Bruce Morrison to feign outrage at how the H-1B is leading to layoffs of American workers, when, as a member of Congress, Morrison wrote the legislation creating the H-1B program with no protections for American workers.
Dr. Matloff also takes on age discrimination in Silicon Valley.
Updated: Thu, May 11th 2017 @ 3:06pm EDT