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Microsoft Leaves ALEC: Horsetrading & The Price to Pay

5:53 pm in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

A Microsoft sign outside of an office building

What’s behind Microsoft’s departure from ALEC?

Some people describe watching politics as similar to watching sausage being made. Sometimes the exchange is complex such as the story, true or not, that Frank Sinatra sang eight nights straight at a Mafia-owned club to pay for actions by John and Robert Kennedy after they were in the White House.

Some good news today is that Microsoft is leaving ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate funded group that supports many right-wing people in the US Congress and in state legislatures, “reportedly because of the group’s lobbying against renewable energy.” It’s a very good thing that Microsoft is joining the many corporations that left ALEC. It is another very good thing that Microsoft may be leaving to avoid association with lobbying against renewable energy.

Is there any connection to another story today? President Obama may soon decide on executive action regarding “a rule allowing spouses of H-1B visa holders, now barred from working in the U.S., to get jobs.” The H-1B high skill guestworker visa allows employers to hire non-citizens for skilled work often in fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Often the spouses would like to work, too, and might have comparable skills. H-1B visas are to Microsoft and other technology companies what fuel prices are to airlines.  Remember that these visas are tied to the employer with no automatic path to citizenship so H-1B visa employees are highly dependent on the employer.

Hiring spouses of H-1B visa holders will further enhance corrupt spousal hiring practices which frequently benefit higher income employees, but rarely benefit low income employees. For example, a university hires a new faculty member under an H-1B visa and uses the spousal hiring policy as a further perquisite. The spouse may never have qualifications to become faculty and may be taking a job away from  other non-tenure staff. I don’t hear of spousal hiring that benefits janitors and food service workers.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform is advertised to accommodate mothers and young children, but all proposals for Comprehensive Immigration Reform offer large increases in the number of H-1B visas corporations can receive to hire non-citizens. President Obama and the Democrats in the US Congress are very much invested in passing the parts of immigration reform that liberalize H-1B visa restrictions. I receive letters from my US Senator justifying H-1B liberalization because the US Dept. of Commerce claims that US corporations are still having trouble hiring enough skilled workers even in this economy. By contrast, US Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) had a forum held via conference call in May with some real experts about the effects of H-1B visas on the US STEM job market. Senator Sessions followed up with a floor speech in July pointing to the hypocrisy when Bill Gates coauthored an Op-Ed in the New York Times recommending removal of all numeric limits on H-1B visas while at the same time Microsoft is in the process of laying off 18,000 skilled workers. You did not hear about this speech on the evening news did you, among all the other immigration news at the time?

So, August is probably a convenient time for President Obama to make this decision about H-1B spouses. We are wondering whether a Wall Street lawyer can calm decades of racial injustice in Ferguson, Missouri in time for the fall TV line-up. The timing is so much better than a Friday News Dump.

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Are We “Falling Behind” on Engineers and Scientists?

8:08 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

Michael S. Teitelbaum has a new book Falling Behind?:  Boom, Bust & the Global Race for Scientific Talent about the job market in science and engineering. He identifies five cycles of alarm, boom, and bust in the science and engineering job market since World War II. These cycles include the Sputnik campaign and the Y2K programming campaign.

Cover of Falling Behind?

A new book deciphers what’s really happening to US STEM careers.

The book is useful in shining a light on the similar tactics used to pump demand for science and engineering in each cycle. The initial events and circumstances change. For example, the Russian lead in launching Sputnik may actually have been the desire by US surveillance to have Russians set the precedent of a satellite overflying another country. The Y2K concerns conveniently dovetailed into the dot-com bubble. Yet, all the five cycles include a public relations campaign by government or business for more people trained in science or engineering, a boom in science or engineering, and a downturn in the science or engineering job market when funding declines.

Michael S. Teitelbaum is a demographer, a former Rhodes scholar, and has been on the faculty of Oxford University and Princeton University. He wrote the book as a fellow at Harvard University.  He wrote two Op-Eds recently in The Atlantic to accompany the book. His ideas are included in the Los Angeles Times and in a review of the book at Science Careers, affiliated with Science magazine.

The author distinguishes between problems that get confused. We often hear complaints about inadequate primary education in science, mathematics, and engineering, and then the advocates jump to arguing about a shortage of professional scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. Michael S. Teitelbaum points out that many locations that perform well on school tests are islands or near-islands (Singapore, Hong Kong) or ethnically fairly uniform (Finland). The USA has inequalities of education, but also has quite adequate numbers of scientists and engineers who score very high on the same tests. There are good reasons for better training in science and mathematics, but we cannot justify better science and math training based on a shortage of the best and brightest with those skills right at home here in the USA.  Besides, the complaints about bad science and math training are usually accompanied by pleas from corporations for greater numbers of H-1B high tech guestworker visas, rather than for funds to provide a better education here at home.

The book also documents why universities are exempt from the H-1B visa caps and how during the Administration of Bill Clinton industry successfully fought against any requirement to offer jobs first to US citizens before acquiring a permit for H-1B visas. The book has a whole chapter on various studies of the science and engineering labor market, who did the studies, and how the authorship affected the conclusions. All the studies that claim to find a shortage had bad methods and were funded by industry. General Accounting Office used to review these studies at the request of the US Congress.

I wish the issue of H-1B visas would get even half the news coverage as the beneficial coverage exposing the problems with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It is frustrating that jobs in science, mathematics, and engineering are exposed to H-1B visas at precisely the same time as the deep cuts to government research funding.

Immigration Reform under President Obama

9:42 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

Immigration Reform is back in the headlines.  Kevin Gosztola wrote a thoughtful piece that considered various aspects of the situation and attracted several comments.

President Obama himself put this issue in the news.

If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don’t care what it looks like,” Obama said. “What we don’t want to do is simply carve out one piece of it…but leave behind some of the tougher stuff that still needs to get done. [emphasis mine]

The items in the news focus on the fairness of law enforcement, incarceration, and deportation.  There is hardly any coverage of the fairness of legal immigration.  In short, our national discussion presents the Immigration Reform Bill from the US Senate as a good bill or at least a responsible compromise.  Yet, the main goals for this bill are not about fairness to anyone, but only about satisfying corporate greed, just as with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The latest news items accept that immigration is merely a law enforcement issue just like our discussions used to be for the war on drugs and the war on crime.  It was refreshing to hear today that US Attorney General Eric Holder (for all his faults) said in Columbia that “we will never prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.”  The popular discussion about immigration pretends that stopping incarceration and deportation of immigrants is the ultimate solution to the issue.

We could discuss the effects of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA), but no one wants to discuss the issues of legal immigration, and whether legal immigration is fair.  The Immigration Reform Bill from the US Senate greatly increases legal quotas on guestworkers to compete with US citizens during already high unemployment while providing thoroughly ineffective protections for US workers.  Universities and corporate leaders are happy to promote stories about “deserving young scientists” pretending that each one will be a major job creator, the next Steve Jobs.

Sunday, ABC News interviewed Mark Zuckerberg who is no longer quite so public about the “skills gap,” but instead talks about civil rights.  NPR interviews his sister Randi Zuckerberg on her book about high tech careers for women.  It’s all the same.  The Senate Bill packages some unpleasant, miserly efforts for DREAMers and undocumented workers to provide adequate cover for the main pieces which create a tsunami of guestworkers entirely dependent on corporate employers (farm workers and H-1B high-tech workers).

Recently, religious groups were more public in the discussion.  A Jewish group publicized their support for immigrants.  Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, writes at Huffingtonpost that Sojourners is buying television time to advertize against US Rep Steve King in Iowa.  A religiously-affiliated poll “indicates 63% of adults nationwide favor allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens if they meet certain requirements.”  Yet support from these groups is used to justify all parts of the Immigration Reform Bill from the US Senate, including the H-1B visas to fly in workers to compete with US citizens.

There is more coverage in India of illegal activity by corporations that use these H-1B visas than in US news sources.  For example, Brenda Koehler is suing Infosys (a sponsor of NPR) that they unfairly passed over her application for promotion in favor of less qualified applicants from South Asia.  Infosys recently agreed to pay $34 million to settle an immigration fraud case involving another type of high tech guestworker.

We passed quickly away from the news item about the well-respected adjunct professor at Duquesne who died from poverty and lack of access to healthcare.  (President Obama has distracted us from discussing healthcare so that we focus only on health insurance.)  I see locally that adjunct instructors (not graduate students) have positions designed to deny health insurance while paying only 10-20% of the money from tuition.  The other 80-90% of what students pay in tuition costs gets sucked away into a general departmental fund.  This situation is now affecting research staff, too.  Jobs are scarce so highly paid medical professors hire at historically low pay and insist that new employees are only half-time to avoid paying health benefits.

Some commenters want to waive the magic wand of “full employment policy” to eliminate the consequences of importing lots of guestworkers on H-1B visas.  Emily’s List sponsors lots of Democratic Women in the US Congress who promote the budget sequester and H-1B visas, such as US Senators Tammy Baldwin, Amy Klobuchar, and Patty Murray.   Maybe we need another Sputnik.

P.S.  Dean Baker had an article yesterday in The GuardianTechnology didn’t kill middle class jobs, public policy did.”  “The story is that innovation rapidly reduced the need for factory workers and other skilled labor.  The data just doesn’t support it.”

Someone who more closely meets our needs

10:12 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

calvin and hobbes pumpkin

Calvin an Hobbes

We’re all being “entertained” now with the game of Calvin Ball in Washington, DC, a game played by comic strip characters Calvin and Hobbes who will feature soon in a documentary about the comic and its creator “Dear Mr. Watterson.”  The two characters competed to carry a ball and would constantly change the game rules for their personal advantage.

This week, I watched news coverage of the latest Immigration Reform events.  Ray Suarez on the “PBS NewsHour” and Juan Gonzalez on “DemocracyNow!” both emphasized coverage of Immigration Reform for DREAMers and undocumented workers while offering no coverage of H-1B visas, no questions about guestworkers affecting farmworker unions, and no interviews with the national labor unions who supposedly endorsed the immigration reform proposals.  One immigration advocate said “there’s a high skill component [to the proposed bill]” indicating no one was really interested in the consequences of H-1B visas because visa rules are too complicated to understand, too boring to hear, just like Wall Street wants us to believe about the bailouts.

News reports about Immigration Reform are structured now very much the same as news discussions (PBS) in advance of the 2003 Iraq War which were consistently a panel of military officers and the topics limited to the most aggressive, pro-war approach.  Even special forces experts like Colonel Pat Lang were not allowed say much during the discussions.  Here’s an Action Alert from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR, 2008) about coverage of the Iraq War.  Peace advocates were excluded because they had no value.  News organizations salivated at all the future audience ratings for an active war.  PBS NewsHour was and still is sponsored by Boeing and other military contractors.  Funny, these same military contractors also like H-1B visas for computer programming and engineering.

Job letters often include language like

At this time we are continuing to pursue candidates that more closely suit our business needs

yet these same employers may be pursuing H-1B visas claiming they cannot find appropriate skills despite many unemployed US citizens with good training and skills.  If the rest of us shop for fruit, clothes, or books, we look.  We may look for a while, but eventually we choose to buy or choose to leave.  We often realize that what we see will meet our needs even if it is not what we anticipated to buy.

We don’t normally expect someone else to subsidize the choices just because we arbitrarily say we cannot find what we want.  Peter Cappelli writes that we would not sympathize about a shortage of diamonds if we knew the person was just complaining about price.  He uses the term “purple squirrels” where an employer merges skills from enough distinct jobs so they will not find anyone to hire who meets all the requirements.  The situation is not necessarily deliberate; the poor economy leaves managers, who may not really know the job market, to try to consolidate jobs to save money.  I saw a recent job announcement for skills in advanced computer server management including M$-Windows and Unix, and the person needed to type faster than 60 words per minute.

Why don’t companies requesting H-1B visas have to show up at job fairs?

There are reports about active methods to avoid US citizens.  These methods would be more difficult if companies had to recruit more.  Normal job fairs offer placement in home healthcare, temporary clerical, phone bank, or delivery truck driver.  College job fairs are mostly financial companies looking for cheap interns.  Neither venue is a productive situation to look for work as full-time computer programmer or full-time data analyst.

The current job market is a serious game of Calvin Ball.  Leaders from politics, academics, and business agree that we need more people with skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  Colleges want to fill their classes and receive tuition, especially out-of-state tuition from non-citizens.  Businesses need the skills and want to pay as little as possible with no concern for loyalty except as an indentured servant.  Even respected news reporters avoid the real questions.  The “Real World” now plays Calvin Ball with job expectations just as back in the times of the song “Allentown” by Billy Joel: “For the promises our teachers gave, If we worked hard, If we behaved”.
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Trickle Up Charity

10:51 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

austerity

austerity

It is easy to point at the very rich, the 1%, as recipients of unnecessary charity.  Robert Benmosche, the CEO of AIG, offended many when he compared taxpayer complaints about bonuses paid while his company was receiving a federal bailout to “pitchforks and their hangman nooses.”  Today, Yves Smith writes that Jaimie Dimon had a private audience with US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to discuss various prosecution activities about JPMorgan and Jaimie Dimon’s role.  By contrast, consider this item about preparing for jail following a peaceful protest.  The posting has special warnings that it may be nearly impossible to obtain critical medications like insulin once in jail.

Privilege for the rich also occurs at lower income levels.  ABCNew publishes that colleges are using funds from children of poor parents to lower costs for more children of more affluent parents through a “shift from need-based aid to merit-based.”  I doubt that there are many merit-based scholarships for hard-working, deserving students from inner-city Detroit or rural South Dakota.  A recent episode of PBS’s “Frontline” called “Football High” about injuries and pressure to perform told about the son of a very successful businessman.  The family could easily afford to send the son to any college or university.  Yet, the son was deeply eager for a football scholarship.

Leaders in the community for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are concerned about future careers in this area.  Some leaders are wringing their hands or here about scores from the latest SAT college entrances test.  The mathematics and statistics leaders are promoting careers by press release, yet a similar argument based on increasing enrollments asks “Why Haven’t Humanities Ph.D. Programs Collapsed?

US Senator Tammy Baldwin recently held a Google Hangout about “The Next Generation Research Act…to improve opportunities for the next generation of researchers.”  The idea is to help young researchers have a better chance of obtaining funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at this difficult time.  Sounds good, doesn’t it!  Maybe it is.  The NIH already instituted programs years ago to enhance research funding opportunities for first-time grant applicants.  First, chances of funding are extremely difficult now from any federal agency even with excellent publication records, so is it fair to lure young researchers into what may be a dead end?  Also, is this funding for “the best and the brightest” going to benefit only the areas of science most likely to benefit corporations?  The STEM and university community is very good at advertising research 1) with expensive equipment 2) that studies processes likely to result in drugs or other patentable products.  I don’t see this glossy advertising for preventive health work in nutrition, social work, or nursing.  Here’s one good example and another of public benefit research.

US Senator Tammy Baldwin is on the senate budget committee and is a strong supporter of austerity for science (with loopholes for certain expensive types of research) and H-1B visas.  US Senators Amy Klobuchar and Patty Murray share her positions on these issues.  Why encourage “The Best and The Brightest” into an austere future career where any rich person can use the “skills gap” argument to undercut salaries?  Even economist Milton Friedman admitted that H-1B visas were an unnecessary subsidy to US corporations (Hedrick Smith, 2012, Who Stole The American Dream?).
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Disinformation Campaign in Progress

11:42 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

Remember back when the George W. Bush White House leaked statements about Iraq to the New York Times, and then quoted the same New York Times for White House Press Statements? Maybe the same disinformation is happening right now in regard to high skilled jobs (and H-1B visas in the background).

Binary Art

What future in big data?

Predicting job hiring trends is tricky business. It is also easy to mislead and confuse the reader.  The American Statistical Association recently published a press release on jobs in statistics. There is now a lot of back-and-forth on which degrees have good potential for well paying jobs. This press release argues that a consistent and sizable increase in students pursuing a major in statistics means there are a lot of jobs. I hope you paused at that jump in logic because lots of students does not mean lots of jobs.

Next the press release cites an imposing report from 2011 by an economics firm (The McKinsey Global Institute). This report is not really about jobs; the report is a marketing campaign for “big data,” indicating what it is and how many businesses are interested. Big Data is all that personal stuff aggregated by our healthcare providers, by the National Security Agency (NSA), by marketers who monitor our internet searches and which websites we read. So, this report claims there will be a lot of use of this technology. I wonder who paid for this report and what influence that money had on the outcome.

The statistics press release also cites “A recent CareerBuilder survey” claiming that companies were hiring a lot of people for jobs in Big Data. This is an industry survey. Federal agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsor snapshot surveys for recent BS and MS graduates and long-term studies that follow other graduates for decades. These surveys are generally more reliable than job surveys by industry. I especially like when outside academics like Prof. Norman Matloff and Prof. Paula Stephan analyze these government-sponsored datasets.

There are good reasons to question whether basing decisions on Big Data is worth the enthusiasm. My immediate concern is whether jobs really exist as claimed in this press release. The science and math community has predicted for decades a shortage of scientists, a shortage of women scientists, a shortage of minority scientists and also here. The problem with this press release is no solid data about actual hiring, career longevity, and pay.  It is very easy to encounter bias in these salary surveys. Age discrimination, jobs designed to exclude US citizens, confusion about classroom training vs. job-specific skills, and simple employer greed obscure the issues.

The professional association for electrical engineering and computer science and the professional association for chemists both acknowledge there is no general shortage of trained scientists and express concern over about the need for more foreign researchers during a time of large corporate layoffs.

Everyday, we encounter these disinformation campaigns. It is rare to catch one in development. PRWatch and FAIR specialize in watching aspects of this disinformation. Big money promotes charter schools and high stakes testing, an urgent war in Syria, fear over Obamacare.  Peter G. Peterson promoted fear over the national deficit, and this propaganda may have helped with the skirmish in a couple weeks over the national debt limit. It is not easy to spot the flaws when skilled professionals manufacture the arguments.

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Admitting the Skills Gap Is a Myth

11:35 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

All Washington, DC is consumed now with using the events in Syria to re-enact some combination of “Wag the Dog” and “Charlie Wilson’s War,” but I prefer to discuss jobs.

I start from the assumption that reasonable investments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) can contribute to good STEM jobs as well as good jobs and good quality of life throughout the country. The path is not perfect, but “making stuff” from growing food to improving hospital gurneys is a pillar of our economy and our society.  “Making stuff” is a better enterprise for society than pushing paper through creative banking.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science who publish the journal Science have a specialized periodical Science Careers about the job market (http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org). Recent articles present a science job market that is not so rosy as we might hear from universities, colleges, and our leaders in Washington, DC.

After the LHC, the Deluge

We heard lots of interesting news in the past few months about the search for the long-sought Higgs boson, what some called the ‘God Particle.’ The European particle physics laboratory, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, runs the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and produced 327 master’s and Ph.D. theses last year.  “In contrast, the INSPIRE Web site, a database for particle physics, currently lists 124 postdocs worldwide in experimental high-energy physics, the sort of work LHC grads have trained for.” Postdocs are temporary positions of typically 1-3 years that were not required 30 years ago, but are required for new PhDs throughout most sciences now in their career path toward more long-term employment. One of the recent physics PhDs says what might come from any recent STEM graduate at any degree level “I think the senior people, they actually think that if you work very hard, you’ll make it, because they made it.”

The ‘S’ in STEM is Oversold

A report on the employment experience of college graduates in five U.S. states observed that employers are far more selective than we thought.  Some biology graduates are now paid less than English majors, a group that is historically very poorly paid. Chemistry majors make a bit more, but not as much as other STEM graduates such as engineers.

So, how do the professional societies view the situation?

Robert N. Charette writes in IEEE Spectrum, an important news periodical for electrical engineers and computer scientists, “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth: Forget the dire predictions of a looming shortfall of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.” “Even as the Great Recession slowly recedes, STEM workers at every stage of the career pipeline, from freshly minted grads to mid- and late-career Ph.D.s, still struggle to find employment as many companies, including Boeing, IBM, and Symantec, continue to lay off thousands of STEM workers.”

The Government & Policy Department at Chemical & Engineering News from the American Chemical Society writes “Unemployment among U.S. scientists raises new doubts about the need for more foreign researchers.”

The Mathematical Association of American and the American Statistical Association are engaged in strong advocacy for training more students to pursue “careers” in mathematics and statistics. The American Statistical Association thinks the path to more jobs for statisticians is through Big Data.

The difference between the statements from the IEEE and American Chemical Association vs. the American Statistical Association and Mathematics Association of America is a combination of actual job market analysis compared to senior professionals worrying about the supply of students in their classes and maintaining cheap labor such as graduate students and postdocs. It is interesting that the statisticians who support Big Data (such as market surveillance and Hollywood analytical mistakes tend to view the market for statisticians by looking at the size of their classes instead of studying salaries that haven’t risen in a decade or other measures that better measure how truly desperate are the US corporations that keep chanting they cannot find enough qualified job applicants.

It is interesting to watch the current tragic spectacle about Syria where legislators and the mainstream media desperately ignore the calls and email messages from their constituents that run sometimes 100:1 against a new war in Syria because the public realizes that the discussion about chemical weapons is tragic, but also misdirection. We’ve just spent several months being misdirected about immigration reform because the topic of H-1B visas was carefully excluded from the news, while legitimately sympathetic stories about DREAMers and exploited workers who crossed the Arizona desert are used to distract us from the H-1B payload. It all gets messy. Read the rest of this entry →

Sequestration and Science

7:25 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

NASA Goddard Science Jamboree 20Sam Stein at the Huffington Post wrote a piece about the effects of sequestration on science in the USA. The article has interviews with leaders of several science research groups that have promising new ideas and technologies. Most of the examples are from basic research in health sciences.

The concerns are real. The examples are real. Yet, this sort of article typically cherry-picks a few examples most likely to result in products. Research is also about better nursing so that patients comply with long-term treatment strategies and will benefit from the shiny new surgical operation. Research is about a health survey to canvas a state with personal contacts to provide better guidance for policy makers. Research is about how to reduce childhood obesity when the main decision-maker is a homeless single mother working at low-wage jobs with irregular schedules needing a car because there is no public transportation to the available employment. Research is about better methods of inspecting bridges to maintain safety; this research itself may be relatively inexpensive so the university has little enthusiasm, but the research could save large amounts of money for repair and planning budgets. The article by Sam Stein is helpful, but only grabs the most shiny toys with the best profit potential.

Paula Stephan wrote How Economics Shapes Science (2012, Harvard University Press) based on her 30 years of studying science funding. One reviewer summarizes an important section:

Perhaps the most interesting story in this story-packed book is the tale of the years 1998-2002, when the NIH budget doubled. This vast influx of funding had many unanticipated and some unproductive outcomes:

  • Success rates for R01 grant applications didn’t rise, and in fact fell significantly by 2009
  • Universities used the funding to justify a building binge, partly to lure prime faculty and partly to create capacity for the anticipated grants
  • Grants grew in size, and absorbed more costs, like graduate student tuitions and other overheads
  • The short-term nature of the doubling, combined with the long-term nature of the resulting grant commitments, created a dearth of money in subsequent years, as funding fell yet remained tied to previous commitments
  • The NIH took monies away from R01 grant-making during the expansion to pursue other, larger initiatives
  • Younger researchers suffered more, as renewing grants did better overall during both the funding boom and the subsequent cuts
  • The number of papers resulting from the doubling of NIH funding remained stubbornly unaffected — as one study put it, “Wherever the funds went, they left no clear scientific record.”

So, where do we go? Democrats want us to blame the Sequester on the Republicans, but budget cuts are a major feature of the budget passed out of the Democratic-led US Senate. The budget committee in the US Senate is led by so-called progressives like US Senators Patty Murray and Tammy Baldwin. Yet their budget makes cuts throughout with no guarantees for traditional Democratic priorities like Social Security and Medicare, or science.

Sam Stein writes:

The problem, Antonsen said, was not just how the lack of funding would impact graybeards like himself, but also the newcomers to the field. Young scientists who had spent 12 years studying for their PhDs would find the climate inhospitable, and future generations would look elsewhere.

“We used to be able to tell people that there was some kind of job security,” he said. “That would be a compensation for not being paid as much. Now, if you are taking a big risk in investing 12 years of your life to learn how to do the science, people will think twice.”

Remember how Senator Patty Murray holds hearings about the impact of budget cuts on ordinary US citizens, but only after championing an austerity budget for President Obama? US Senator Amy Klobuchar held a hearing on long-term unemployment after she introduced a tsunami of H-1B visas for high tech jobs which strongly promotes age discrimination and increases job competition in an already difficult market for scientists. US Senator Tammy Baldwin is their close colleague in all these decisions. H-1B visas are their gift to the science community to hold down wages for junior scientists which were never very high. Holding down wages makes it easier to continue science with little money, but it really doesn’t encourage anyone to pursue a career.

Our leaders in science and business claim a shortage of students entering science degree programs. Sam Stein quotes a researcher in his article.

“I wouldn’t advise people to go into science,” he said. “I think it’s a tough career to follow. It’s not the career that I thought it was, or that it was for me a couple of years ago.”

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The Secret about Immigration Reform

7:19 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

The Democrats, Republicans, and news media are crafting a message that Immigration Reform is about a battle between helping young DREAMers and families that are hard-working but undocumented vs. certain concerns about securing our national borders to exclude any more terrorists.  The DREAMers were brought to the US by their parents at a young age.  The undocumented families overstayed their visas or crossed the border illegally.  Here is one recent example of a news story on DREAMers.  They were raised in the US and feel like US citizens, but have no papers to go to college or live a normal life.

There is a third side to the Immigration Reform Bill from the US Senate, a side that does not involve or benefit the DREAMers, nor the families, a side the news ignores.  H-1B visas allow employers including companies and universities to hire non-citizens with skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  The employers use these visas when they claim they cannot find suitable US citizens.  The Senate Immigration bill would raise the cap on these visas from the current 60,000 per year to 200,000 per year or higher.  Universities are exempt from the cap.  Again, these H-1B visas are not part of helping the DREAMers, nor the families, but are in the bill to satisfy corporate lobbyists.

Employers are very skilled at writing job announcements to exclude US citizens because they prefer to hire non-citizens.  These H-1B visas have been used to facilitate outsourcing jobs and displacing US workers.

Now a US citizen has sued a company for discrimination in this hiring process.

Brenda Koehler is a VMware-certified professional network engineer with a master’s degree in information systems and 17 years of experience. You might think that would qualify her for a lead VMware/Windows administrator, but Indian outsourcing firm Infosys apparently didn’t. And Koehler has filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging that Infosys ignored her qualifications and eventually hired a Bangladeshi worker to staff a position she was qualified for. [I linked to Slashdot, the original news source is here.]

There is a lot of silence in the news about these H-1B visas while the Democrats and Republicans craft the discussion as sympathetic DREAMers and hard working families vs a need for massive border security.  There are ongoing surveys by the National Science Foundation such as Survey of Earned Doctorates, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, and National Survey of Recent College Graduates.  The surveys ask good questions of the survey participants, but the analyses are generally not worthwhile.  Some years back, one published analysis observed a lack of minorities in science, but immigrants from China and India were filling the place of US minorities.  Other researchers have re-analyzed these public datasets.  Prof. Norman Matloff from UC-Davis published two recent analyses:  in Migration Letters (PDF), and with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).  He has a page of comments, quotes and links.

Tipping Point for Labor

10:00 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

Chinese factory floor

Growth in wages for laborers in China, but worse news for skilled and unskilled workers here.

Paul Krugman recently wrote about the existence of a possible tipping point for labor in China in his column “Hitting China’s Wall“. Is there a similar issue of a tipping point for high skilled labor (H-1B visas) in the current US economy? Paul Krugman writes:

Now, however, China has hit the “Lewis point” — to put it crudely, it’s running out of surplus peasants.

He writes about how a vast supply of cheap labor from the Chinese countryside enabled rapid growth of the Chinese economy especially in big cities. An important feature of this economic growth has been a large supply of cheap labor so wages remained low and money (investment) “simply stays bottled up in businesses.”

Is the US high skill labor market moving in the reverse direction? Claims of a shortage of high skilled labor are always suspect, but wages and salaries were higher during the Dot-com bubble. “High skilled” usually means those trained in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), from skilled trades to BS, MS, PhD.  The supply of H-1B visas continues to increase even though wages and salaries for high skilled workers remain mostly constant, or declining. The Immigration Reform Bill from the US Senate allows H-1B visas to increase by 3X or more.

The “Lewis point” mentioned by Paul Krugman is a point when supply of cheap labor tightens and labor gains more bargaining power, leading to higher wages. In China, the market for construction and factory labor may be tightening “Wages are rising; finally, ordinary Chinese are starting to share in the fruits of growth.” The high skilled labor market rarely involves unions or other strong bargaining units. So, an increased supply of high skilled labor further strengthens the power of corporations in any bargaining with US STEM workers, a reversed direction for what may be happening to low skill workers in China.

One difference is that in China the cheap labor leads to economic growth because “Some of that income flows to a politically connected elite; but much of it simply stays bottled up in businesses, many of them state-owned enterprises. ” We know that US corporations are not investing in research, development, or even in plant construction, unlike China and other countries, and most of the money remains with the “politicially connected elite” such as Wall Street.

Paul Krugman starts his article by describing the lack of transparency of Chinese economic statistics. It is difficult to produce good analyses when the numbers are unreliable. Funny though, US statistics on the high skilled labor market are also unreliable, and here. For example, corporations are ever more creative on avoiding US talent so they can claim a “shortage.” Much of the national discussion is about issues of hiring, while employers fire people “at will” to make it easier to dump older US workers and select cheaper H-1B workers.

I really liked the words by President Obama recently and by US Senators Patty Murray, Amy Klobuchar, and Tammy Baldwin. They speak about college students, the middle class, and growing the economy. It’s their votes I don’t like and the lack of accountability for Wall Street and other corporations. They champion budget austerity with glee.  Their immigration reform paints any opposition to H-1B visas as intolerant of brown people. They remind me of BP commercials on PBS about all the good things BP is doing to help the people of Louisiana and the Gulf coast, ignoring their role in the oil spill.

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