Friday, April 14, 2006

"Jobs American's Won't do: Tech"

Update: I just found this article by Dr. Norman Matloff
It's a must-read if you're an American who "Doesn't Want to Work".

The current immigration "feces fest" focuses mainly on "low wage workers". According to George Bush, "Jobs American's won't do" (those lazy slouches).

(Very well covered at "The Talent Show")

None of this affects those of us with college educations, right?

Or does it?

I've been holding my personal exprience on this issue inside for a long time, but with all the debate about illegal immigration, now is the time to get it out there:

College grads, you ain't safe from illegal immigration.

George Bush has paid a lot of lip service to the idea that America is falling behind in science and technology (true) and that the solution is to have better science and technical education (also true) to encourage American kids to study math and science (this is where it falls down).

The "Kids" are not stupid. They quickly develop an appreciation of supply and demand. Kids are avoiding science and math for the fundamental reason that there's no money in it. They aren't going to torture themselves through years of Calculus, etc. (like I did) to be unemployed (like I was). Why the shift? Was it the bust? Sort of...

Let's get into the way-back machine and go to 2001 ( insert harp music here ).

Me and two of my tech co-workers noticed job opening postings in the company cafeteria. The job descriptions matched our current positions, but were for more money. All three of us immediately decided to go to the personel office to "apply".

We got a cold reception from the personnel director. "You can't" were his exact words. "Why not?" we asked. "Because they're not real openings."

"Eh?", said we.

"You can't apply for those positions as they are for our renewing H-1B visa holders." To comply with the law, we must post a job for X months. If no 'qualified' U.S. citizen applies, then we are allowed to bring in an H-1B person to fill the role. If you apply then we'll have no opening to fill."

"But its our exact job but for $20k/year more!"

"Go away." was his answer.

( More xylophone music and back to the present)

So what's happening here? I didn't realize it at the time, but that was my first experience with "the visa game".

Here's how it works: The law is more or less like the HR Director described. If no "qualified" citizen can be found, then an H-1B visa holder can be brought in and *must be paid a wage equivalent to an American worker*. But there's a subtle catch to H-1B visas: the H-1B visa holder can *only* work for the company that sponsored them. ( Yes, *sponsored*. These companies pay big $$$ to law firms to cover the costs of bringing in H-1Bs ) If the visa holder loses his/her job with the company that sponsored them, the visa holder must also leave the U.S.

So why in the world would a company pay so much money up front to sponsor a foreign worker? The bottom line is this: once the H-1B holder is brought over, their salary is quickly lowered. There's always an excuse ( the economy is bad, the company has to cut back, etc.) but the result is the same: "we're cutting your salary by half. If you don't like it, you can always go back home."

Most immigrants are unaware that this practice is illegal and even those who do are afraid to report it because half or even less of the prevailing wage is still more than what they can get back home.

So the key to getting cheap labor is:
- Make the job requirements so specific that only the person you're currently attempting to sponsor can fill it.
- Pay some $$$ up front to lawyers to handle the paperwork.
- Pay the visa holder prevailing wages for while to pass paperwork, but then quickly cut the wages back to 1/2 or even lower. If he or she "squeals", refuses to work overtime, talks back, etc., you send them back home. A perfect gig for any employer.

A similar practice was described in your high school history lessons as "endentured servitude". Look it up.

Not only have I as an American Citizen been on the short end of this stick, I have immigrant friends that have been on the other end. An Indian friend has been working for at least 3 years now with his wages "witheld" by 2/3. His employer promises him the back wages when "business improves".

I've also spoken with a secretary who's in charge of the hiring practice. She told how she was required to keep meticulous records of interviews to prove they couldn't find "qualified applicants" so that the business could hire H-1Bs. Not an H-1B? Sorry you're too expensive, er.. "unqualified".

Every imigrant I've met has been a good person. They are on the whole nice people. They are good people. We need immigrant labor. It helps both countries. But we need to make sure that American citizens aren't being screwed by cheating companies.

I have a quick solution. Change the visa requirements so that a company can sponser as many immigrants as they like. But said immigrants can work anywhere he/she likes for that fixed time period. If the visa-holder can find better pay somewhere else, he/she will go. That will put a quick end to business undermining American wages through endentured servitude.

Many mouth off about the virtues of "Supply and Demand" and "Capitalism" being critical to American success. Currently, American business, via their corruption of lawmakers, is not allowing labor to be in demand.

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