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Friday, March 14, 2008

Like Clockwork
On Wednesday, March 12, 2008, the Committee of One, Bill Gates, testified in front of Congress that the H-1B visa limit of 65,000 for "highly skilled" guest workers (plus 20,000 for advanced degree holders) needed to be raised. His speech, which I've provided in the link above, is absolutely breathtaking as he talks about science and computing and networking and how many computers we have and how computers and its [Microsoft] software affects just about every aspect of our lives.

(For the uninitiated, letting in foreign skilled workers seems like a good way to address critical shortages that may crop up in the scientific, engineering and computer science fields. What I, and many other people object to, is the fact that employment opportunities and salaries for American technical workers have plummeted since the beginning of the H-1B program in 1990. We are repeatedly told that the United States needs more high tech workers. Oddly enough, both recent college graduates and experienced technical workers have difficulty finding employment in their career fields, despite the fact that high tech companies are supposedly begging for qualified workers. Most companies have impossible-to-meet standards for American workers, yet those standards seem to disappear altogether for lower-paid foreign workers. Even more amazing, American workers are forced to train their foreign replacements in order to receive severance packages. At the end of the cycle, the foreign workers head back overseas, taking their jobs with them. Predictably, enrollment in computer science programs and other technical fields are declining at fast rates.)

Back to Bill Gates' testimony. Skim through the pages where he talks about how the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, through its largesse, will make everything that is already good in this world even better. You'll find it didn't take long for him to get to what's really eating him.
  • We're a nation of dunces.
  • We need more foreign guest workers.
  • Taxpayers need to foot the bill for basic research and training more high tech workers.
  • High tech companies need more tax breaks.

Despite what Gates said in the rest of the pages of his speech, it all boiled down to, We Need More Foreign Guest Workers. If You Don't Give Us More Foreign Guest Workers, We'll Show You Who's Boss By Sending These Jobs Overseas.

Several members of Congress practically tripped over each other as they lined up to profess their fawning admiration for Bill Gates. Why shouldn't they, when so much money for potential campaign contributions and from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is at stake? Representative Bart Gordon, (D-Tennessee), said, "Bill Gates embodies both the American spirit of innovation and the theological virtue of charity. … I can think of no other witness better suited to share his insights with this committee."

A few Representatives had the guts to ask some tough questions. Dana Rohrbacher (R-California), asked if:

..........H-1B workers were driving down U.S. wages or replacing "B and C students" from the United States. Gates said no, citing a study released Monday by the pro-immigration think tank the National Foundation for American Policy, saying that for every H-1B position applied for, companies create an additional five jobs.

[Note from Carrie: How convenient that report came out just a few days before Gates' testimony.]

"The top people are going to be [paid] higher," Gates said. "It's just a question of what country they're working in."

For more good discussions on the National Foundation for American Policy report, you can read Rob Sanchez' and Norman Matloff's newsletters. Please also see Patrick Thibodeau's article at Computerworld for another good recap. (For some reason, I'm having a devil of a time trying to link to his article. If motivated, look for his article "Gates: U.S. Puts Tech Jobs at Risk by Capping Foreign Workers" dated March 12, 2008 under the "Government" section.)

Another member of Congress spoke up:

Rep. Laura Richardson, a California Democrat, challenged Microsoft and other tech companies to fund scholarships for science and engineering students with the money they use to recruit workers and apply for visas.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides scholarships for 14,000 minority students, Gates noted. But more scholarships won't solve the problem of a lack of U.S. science and engineering students, he said.

"Scholarships can be helpful, but I'm not sure that alone would drive the shift we need," Gates said.

Predictably, by late Thursday afternoon, Gabrielle Giffords, (D-Arizona) introduced the Innovation Employment Act that would double the number of H-1B's being issued from 65,000 to 130,000 per year. A number of safeguards are supposed to be included in this bill, such as:

  • increasing the penalties for H-1B fraud
  • rejecting applications for "clear indicators of fraud"
  • prohibiting companies from hiring H-1B workers and then immediately outsourcing them to other companies
  • prohibiting companies "with more than 50 employees that have more than half of their staff as H-1B workers from hiring more H-1Bs"
  • prohibiting employers from advertising their jobs as being exclusively for H-1B workers

I say these "safeguards" are little more than window dressing. However, that will be another post for another day.

Many pundits admit that Congress will have a tough time passing legislation for higher numbers of H-1B workers during an election year, when people are finally reaching a consensus that unemployment rates are going higher while the economy is going sour. However, just for extra insurance, Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced the catchy-sounding Strengthening United States Technology And Innovation Now (or Sustain) Act, which would triple the number of H-1B visas being issued for 2008 and 2009.

(Cross-posted at Carrie's Nation.)

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Blogger Distributorcap said...
problem is if gates doesnt get what he wants he will just ship the jobs overseas -- easy enough to do in high tech...

even bill gates --- motives driven by greed as opposed to helping the country. there is NO reason he couldnt find what he wanted in this country

then again, the overall education level of students in this country is pretty low - since they would rather know about eliot spitzer's sex life than the crimes of eliot spitzer