H1-B (was Re: [linux-elitists] Fwd: [declan@well.com: FC: DOJ quietly drafts USA Patriot II, includes anti-crypto section])

Karsten M. Self kmself@ix.netcom.com
Sun Feb 9 00:29:14 PST 2003

on Sun, Feb 09, 2003 at 03:31:38AM +0200, Bulent Murtezaoglu (bm@acm.org) wrote:
> >>>>> "KMS" == Karsten M Self <kmself@ix.netcom.com> signs:
>     KMS> [...]  The truth behind the H-1B IT indentured
>     KMS> servant scam: 
> Hmm.  I was one of those H-1B's 1997-2002 and voluntarily went back to
> where I originally came from.  So forgive me if I actually paid
> attention to your .sig.  

That's what it's there for.  Detailed response below.

My issue is with the program, not those working under it.  I feel it's
unfair to both emmigrant workers and citizens/residents displaced as a

> It is true that the transition from H-1b to employment-based permanent
> residency can entail indentured servitude.  It also true that an H-1b
> who actually leaves, leaves behind the accumulated social security and
> cannot use the unemployment he's paid for.  It appears that this
> bargain is an OK one for the H1-b holders -- I viewed it cynically as
> regular government regulation overhead without attaching a nationality
> to it.  It certainly can be much more expensive and a bigger hassle to
> deal with the government that's ostensibly my own.  It is a tribute to
> the US that the last remark holds for many places including most in
> the 'west.'
> An H-1b holder who actually leaves the US _can_ keep on working in his
> home country doing the same stuff and competing with all-American
> workers just the same.  I am unsure, in a connected world, if you can
> be protectionist to the extent that computer talent you use stays
> local.  

This isn't an issue of protectionism, but one of creating distinct
classes labor within a country.

>     KMS> http://heather.cs.ucdavis.edu/itaa.real.html
> This is an OK link for advocacy as it at least has accurate
> but somewhat dated information.  
>     KMS> http://www.zazona.com/ShameH1B/ 
> This one is indeed shameful.  It actually tries to play on the fear
> Sept 11 caused along with resentment unemployed people have for
> foreigners working in the US.  

It also makes some good points.  I'm leaving it, on balance, for the
present.  If someone can suggest other sites making a good case of the
issue, I'll consider them.

> I have felt zero resentment from the many Americans I have
> worked/studied with and ran into during my 15 years in the US.  This
> includes being a from a predominantly Muslim (albeit friendly) country
> post 9-11.  And that is one of the reasons why the US is a good place
> to live.  I hope you guys never lose that -- it is an asset that's
> worth far more than a few months' wages.

Following was written as a response to someone who'd remarked on my sig
earlier.  I haven't heard back from them, so assume I'm either being
intolerably reasonable or intolerably bigoted.  Your call.

I'm still massaging this into a general essay on the topic, feedback is

The with the H-1B system is that it is unfair to both citizens *and*
immigrants, serving business interest with little concern for social
impacts.  The justifications of the program are false.  The pain served
affects both citizens and immigrants.  The whatever justification may
have existed for the program is entirely gone at present.

My objection is this:

The H-1B system creates a caste of workers with reduced rights and
mobility.  They are beholden to their sponsoring companies, hence
"indentured servants".  They cannot compete on equal terms with citizens
or greencard holders -- H-1B workers can't command the same wages within
the US as those with unrestricted residency.  Their residency status is
lost when their employment ends.

The justifications of the program, if you read the links, were falsely
presented, and continue to be misrepresented.  Patently in several
cases.  This has created serious disruptions within the US IT labor
market.  It's arguable that the availability of an inexpensive,
indentured labor force helped extend the dot-com boom beyond what it
would have been capable to sustain based on available labor sources.
The boom was an uncontrolled fire to start with, ordinarily
inflationary wage pressures would have limited growth, instead, more
fuel was poured on the fire -- likely increasing the current depression.

This isn't a unique situation to IT or the US.  My own background is
agricultural economics.  One of the topics studied was farm labor
economics.  There is in California (where I live) a very large Mexican
population, largely "undocumented" (lacking emigration papers).  They
are absolutely essential to agricultural production.  At the same time,
politics dictate that they cannot be granted legal immigrant / work
status.  The result is that ag companies (or their labor contractors)
have a leverage point on the workers -- any complaints over working
conditions, pay, safety, or transportation can be met with "we'll report
you to the INS".  Similarly, workers families suffer:  they don't gain
the benefits of education, healthcare, or other state support.  This
despite the fact that the workers are contributing positively to the
economy, and that California agriculture quite simply couldn't function
without them.

H-1Bs are in a similar situation in the technical sector.  Simply:
H-1Bs don't have the rights of workers with full citizenship or
residency status.  The program cuts against *both* the H-1Bs and
established local workers.

I'd have no problem with a program that would liberalize emigration
rules to allow for more workers with specific skills to be granted
level-basis access to US employment markets.  The truth is that H-1Bs
have found themselves cut off in the dot-com bust, in a society which
treats undocumented immigrants as potential terrorists.  The system
isn't fair for *either* citizens/residents, or H-1Bs.

The truth is that emigration in this country is pretty fucked up from
any perspective.  I've had good friends -- British, Korean, Indian,
Mexican -- with serious problems getting and maintaining residency or
visa status.  The system takes years to work, loses data, and treats the
applicant as a criminal, often when the INS is the agency at fault.
Post September 11, of course, the climate has changed markedly.  Even in
the best of times, there's a political battle between business (which
wants a large, cheap labor supply) and nationalists (who don't want
"population dilution") leading to conflicting interests in immigration.
Ironically, *both* sides are served by a regime which winks and allows
undocumented or encumbered workers (easier to deal with by business) but
doesn't welcome foreigners with open arms (keeps the nationalists
happy).  Further irony:  both sides of this battle tend to be
represented in the Republican party.

As for why I'm as concerned about this as I am:  You have to be somewhat
aware of my abilities from my mailing list posts.  I've been out of work
for 14 of the past 24 months.  I can't find current work in GNU/Linux or
Unix systems/network administration (I've just landed a gig in my other
major skillset:  SAS data analysis).  I've got many good friends in
similar straights.  The San Francisco Bay Area has lost over 200,000
jobs in the past 24 months.  Of the 195,000 H-1B visas  available in
2002, only 79,100 were issues.  There's some speculation that the
program may be reduced in the face of growing unemployment in the IT


I also know many people who've come to the US on H-1B visas, some of
whom are working, some of whom are fugitives in a hostile land to which
they're no longer welcome.  This rips their lives apart as well.

My objection to the system is that it's not fair to two sets of workers:
citizens and residents, on the one hand, and the H-1B visa workers on
the other.  And the system pits these two groups against one another
when the real complaint is against business and political interests
which have misrepresented the situation to their own gain.

I have no objections to fair labor market practices.  The H-1B program
is inherently unfair.

I hope this clarifies my position on this matter.

Karsten M. Self <kmself@ix.netcom.com>        http://kmself.home.netcom.com/
 What Part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
   Hollings:  bought, paid for, but couldn't deliver the CBDTPA:

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