The scourge of Silicon Valley

By Ed Frauenheim


Letters to the Editor
October 23, 2000 11:07AM (UTC)

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Ed Frauenheim's profile of my gadfly activities on the H-1B visa issue was quite fair, engaging and well-researched. I wish to make some corrections and clarifications, though.

Frauenheim quotes me as saying that while the new H-1B bill will reduce the current five-year-plus time that the workers spend in de facto indentured servitude, deliberate foot-dragging by employers in processing paperwork will still mean that the time a worker spends in "indentured" status will be about three or four years. Actually, what I said was that the time under the new law will be about three or four years if there is NO foot-dragging on the employers' part; employers who do engage in delaying tactics will make that time even longer.

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In the article, industry lobbyist Harris Miller is quoted as saying that "Matloff's 1998 predictions of gloom and doom [arising from the H-1B quota increase enacted that year] for domestic workers haven't panned out," citing low unemployment rates for programmers in 1999. The fact is that I never predicted that programmer unemployment rates would rise. On the contrary, I have always said that unemployment rates are rather meaningless, as the programmers who can't get programming work leave the field, and thus do not show up in the unemployment data. Frauenheim notes this latter point, but his phrasing will incorrectly appear to some readers that I am making an after-the-fact excuse for having made incorrect predictions in 1998, which is not the case.

Finally, though Frauenheim notes that I have also been active in the Wen Ho Lee case, he leaves the readers hanging by not stating whether I am a supporter or a critic of Lee. Indeed, given the phrase "anti-immigration" you use to describe me in the title (to which I also object), many readers will assume I am a critic of Lee. For the record, I am a member of the Steering Committee of the Wen Ho Lee Defense Fund.

Thanks again for covering the H-1B issue.

-- Norman Matloff
professor of Computer Science, University of California at Davis

Norman Matloff is absolutely correct about the state of the high-tech labor market. In the past few years I have had to terminate the employment of several American programmers to make room for less qualified H-1B temporary workers. My employers were not at all embarrassed about the reason that Americans were replaced by foreign workers -- foreigners are much cheaper. Please note that our H-1B workers did become more productive after receiving free on-the-job training -- training which should have gone to U.S. citizens. When all costs are taken into account, I am convinced that this strategy did not save money in the long run, or even in the short run, but it did hurt American workers.

Matloff is also correct that computer programmers are not extravagantly paid for the type of work they do. Salaries are not high enough to attract gifted students to the field, so potential homegrown talent is wasted. Why is there so much concern about improving math and science education if all technical jobs will go to third-world workers? As long as the market is flooded with cheap labor, the U.S. will never be able to develop and maintain its own technically skilled labor force.

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Finally, it is very disheartening to see 96 percent of the United States Senate working against American workers. Our elected officials might do well to remember that foreigners cannot vote but American citizens can.

-- Ed Nolan

As an Indian-American, I find Matloff's theory to be completely off base. If working conditions for H1-B workers were so bad, why would they continue to flow in? Just because they're immigrants does not mean they're stupid!

Secondly, as a recent college grad, I can assure you that competent (and even not-so-competent) computer science majors are easily finding jobs in high-tech.

-- Ronak Shah


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