AP story on H-1B Workers a deceptive, muddled mess

Sunday, February 1st, 2009
By: Jonathan MontagJ.D.

The AP published a story today, “AP Investigation: Banks sought foreign workers,” reporting that banks getting bailout money are hiring foreign workers. The article reports that some senators, notably Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, are uproared.  Here are some of the statements made in the article that are purported to be 100 percent true, like “the sun sets in the evening.”

– Foreigners are attractive hires because companies have found ways to pay them less than American workers.

– The government only grants 85,000 such visas each year among all U.S. employers.

Some facts. All companies that  applied for new H-1B visas for the 2009 fiscal year – for an October 1, 2008, start date – on April 1, 2008, six months before the October 1, 2008, start date. The AP ought to know – they and every news service in the world, except perhaps the North Korean news service – wrote articles about the huge rush to file on April 1, as the demand outpaced the supply of new H-1B visas. On April 1, 2008, no one knew the U.S. economy was collapsing – at least no one in the government was letting on.  Recall that when presidential candidate Barack Obama intimidated that the economy was in recession in August 2008, he was pounced on by his opponents,  the Republican establishment, and pundits as if he had his lapel pin upside down.  President Bush had as much trouble pronouncing “recession” as he had with “nuclear.” Things were booming on April 1, 2008.

Another fact. Remember all the articles about how the American economic system was not providing technically skilled workers to meet the demands of our growing, booming economy. Remember Bill Gates and many others  going to Congress to testify and warning of serious problems if:

1) We do not fix our educational system;
2) We do not increase the number of skilled workers allowed into the country to meet the shortfall in the supply of skilled workers.

No Child Left Behind was created because U.S. children were being left behind the rest of the world.

And since the economy crashed, article after article and report after report are published, all indignant about the huge amounts of money people in the financial sector were making.  Don’t forget we are still in a collective uproar over bonuses, young bankers making 7 figure incomes, and recurrent questions about why America rewards people who make money speculating with other peoples’ money – creating financial instruments no one understands and which have led to catastrophe – instead of rewarding people that build things and invent things. Remember just a couple of weeks ago, our President, whose words are so clever there is more to read between them than their face value,  stated to universal applause:

“…. it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

So now the AP writes a story fueling foreigner-hating sentiment because several months before the economy tanked, and months before anyone was bailed out, arrangements were being made for skilled foreigners to be hired six months in advance, at the prevailing wage. The AP finds some Americans who were not willing to work at the prevailing wage. Perhaps a mere six instead of seven figures. The article does not report at what wage the job was offered at and turned down. You can bet with the way jobs are disappearing, these people now would grab them now if they were available. Anecdotal evidence is easy to find. Anecdotes of skilled workers who have saved companies and created huge benefits to the United States through their inventions and industry could most certainly counter anecdotes of disgruntled Walt Kowalskis who turned down jobs because the pay was not high enough. That is not to say that there are not problems with the H-1B program. There are problems with every program, but nihilism is not a solution.

The article also “forgets” to address the question of whether foreigners actually took the jobs that Americans otherwise would have taken. With all the economic misery since April 1, 2008, you can bet large numbers of hires planned on April 1 were not actually made on October 1.  You can bet there are thousands upon thousands of foreign workers who have to pack and leave the country because their jobs have disappeared. USCIS will tell you fee receipts for visas are way down, Business immigration firms are shedding jobs and consolidating because companies are not filing visa petitions.

When the article states that foreigners are attractive hires because companies have found ways to pay them less than American workers, the evidence is anecdotal and not supportable. As noted, business notables constantly argue about a technology-worker shortage. Does the AP really believe it is more economical for a company to hire a foreign worker with all the difficulties in adjustment to the United States, moving expenses, language and cultural problems on the job, and the exorbitant fees necessary to hire the worker. Does the AP know what it costs to hire an H-1B worker? As much as $3220 in filing fees alone plus fees to attorneys to work through all the paperwork. Plus costs to monitor the workers to make sure their visas are still valid, and recurrent fees for renewal. Certainly some companies hire foreigners for nefarious reasons (and to save money, if that is a nefarious reason), but the program exists because there is a need for skilled workers that the United States educational system is not providing.

The article states that there are only 85,000 visas granted a year. This does not count renewals and other categories exempt from caps because of the need for skille workers here. The H-1B visa does not exist because Congress was trying to screw American workers. It exists because American technology companies need it.  Many foreign workers have been in the United States for awhile and some have been educated here. The rest of the world is not necessary thrilled that the United States is swallowing up the world’s educated workers. Remember the term, “Brain Drain.” Brain Drain is America benefiting from the human resources and educational expenditures of the rest of the world.

The ultimate question to be answered after reading the article is, “So what?”  So what if high tech foreign workers are coming to the United States? The United States is a huge beneficiary of the creative talents of students educated in universities in the developing world who come here to work and graduate students here who are educating undergraduates and doing important research before getting jobs that contribute to the strength (and profits) of U.S. companies. Without the importation of these workers, Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, etc., etc., might well move oversees to find skilled and, yes, affordable workers. Then, what would America be left with – Senator Charles Grassley’s ethanol schemes – which many studies show takes more energy to produce that the energy that results? It is not only Senator Grassley’s ethanol that is a lot of hot air.


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