Monday, December 31, 2007

Abolish the H-1b "indentured servant" visa; Green cards instead

Over a year ago I had blogged regarding my view that it would make since to abolish the H-1b visa and implement a green card instead. At the time I took heat from some anti-immigration groups who would rather we not allow immigrants into our country. I also have since taken heat from Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney, who somehow feels that providing permanent immigration instead of temporary employer sponsored visas is offensive. Since my first thoughts on a green card instead of the H-1b were published, my view on the subject has been refined some.

Before I get into my thoughts, I first want to address the shallow remarks of Greg Siskind in comments on his blog. Siskind's positions reflect those of a corporate lobbyists, so of course he wants to discredit anyone who stands between corporate objectives of exploitable workers with words like "anti-immigrant".

In my own defense against his untrue comments, I am married to an immigrant, support some form of amnesty, and want to increase protections for immigrants. The tough part about his attacks is that it is very difficult (perhaps impossible) to prove a negative, and it is so easy for him to lob such grenades. I find it disturbing that Siskind would sink that low.

My view is that Greg Siskind is worse than the anti-immigration proponents and that Siskind is in fact anti-immigrant. There is an important distinction between "anti-immigrant" and "anti-immigration". Anti-immigration proponents want to shut out immigrants for a variety of reasons (some not relating to race) and anti-immigrants fall into two categories. The first category is racist, and the second category are exploiters. Greg Siskind clearly represents the interests of those who want to exploit immigrants for financial gain. My point is that a person can support higher levels of immigration and at the same time be anti-immigrant.

I don't believe we need more immigration, but I also think we can support current levels if done right. I believe that we should replace the H-1b visa program with an equal number of merit based green cards (current cap of 85,000 + the 50,000 lottery). The program I have in mind would not be employer sponsored and on the other side of the coin there would be no labor test. There would also be no per-country quota. Family members wouldn't count towards the cap. The goal of a merit based program would be to allow only the best and brightest to qualify for these visas. It would be a race to the top, not the race to the bottom that we see today. Instead of junior level programmers, we would see top scientists, doctors, and inventors. Instead of "first come first serve" it would be "best come first serve".

If you are just now following the H-1b issue, you might be wondering what is wrong with it. Although not perfect, wikipedia actually covers most of the issue. But I'll summarize.

Harm to immigrants
- The H-1b is not completely portable. Changing jobs will usually result in the application for a green card to start over. This is a problem because that process can take years. The end result is that immigrants intending to become permanent residents also become captive workers.

- Spouses cannot work.

- If H-1b workers are fired from a job (or quit), they must leave the country unless they are able to quickly find a new job. This gives employers great leverage over them. Simply put, immigrants from third world countries will allow themselves to be exploited so that they can remain in our country. Many sponsoring companies are quite willing to subject them to such exploitation.

Harm to American workers
- Companies are using the program to lower wages in high tech occupations. There is a Labor Condition Application (LCA) that companies must submit which is suppose to enforce prevailing wage. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. The average "prevailing wage" in the LCA is $14,000 less than true market wages. Prevailing wages are also defined as much lower than what market wages are, so companies can legally use the program as a means to get a competitive advantage over companies who do not use the program.

- The top supporters of H-1b visas are also offshoring firms, mostly from India. These firms use the program as an enabler of offshoring. These also happen to be the greatest exploiters of their H-1b employees.

- Because of diminishing opportunities in software engineering, we now see a decline in Computer Science graduates in the United States. Students are voting with their major, and because of current practices they are choosing to go into other careers. In short, the H-1b is harming the labor market and discouraging entry into technology careers. This is not good for the future of our country since it is important that we lead in technology.

Although there are other problems with the H-1b, those seem to top the list. So, how would a green card instead of the H-1b help solve these problems?

First, immigrants can change jobs at will without penalty and they are no longer sponsored by a company - thus no strings attached. This benefits both immigrants and American workers. Immigrants aren't so easily exploited; as a result they can command higher salaries. Higher salaries relieve pressure on American workers.

Second, we will get a broader skill base. Instead of junior level programmers displacing the scientist who can help cure disease, the opposite will occur.

Finally, this will relieve pressure on our own college grads and entry level workers pursuing IT related occupations, which currently have the lion's share of visas. We will see a return of students to computer science occupations - a good thing for our country's ability to compete globally.

There is a reason we call the H-1b an indentured servant visa. I recently watched the movie "Amazing Grace" and I was amazed at how the same arguments used in support of slavery are now being used in support of the H-1b visa. Greg Siskind represents our modern day version of slave traders. Sure the H-1b isn't on the same moral level as slavery, but it follows the same pattern of exploitation against human beings. It makes one wonder if during the years of slavery, there was a lawyer like Greg Siskind that could be called to spin the practice in a positive way.

You don't need to wonder what thoughts Greg Siskind keeps to himself to know if he is anti-immigrant or not. You need only look at his pattern of exploitation to realize that he is in the business of exploitation, and thus anti-immigrant. I believe his actions to be worse than overt displays of racism. Racists act out of ignorance. They can "plead stupid". Greg Siskind knowingly helps in the exploitation of people for profit. He simply cannot plea ignorance.

Greg Siskind calling me anti-immigrant is like a slave trader calling the abolitionist anti-African. I'm sure in their twisted minds, they may have thought they were actually doing the slaves a favor. I wonder if Siskind thinks the same way regarding the people he helps to exploit.