Sunday, October 21, 2007

Durbin Hiring Bill - This is mildly interesting

Originally posted to my Yahoo 360 blog Tuesday April 3, 2007 - 07:55pm (CDT)

I haven't looked over the bill, and more importantly, I haven't had a qualified lawyer look over the bill to tell me what he thinks about it, so I'll hold off on speaking in support or opposition to it, but on the surface it does look like an interesting change of pace from business as usual:

"High-tech companies and others clamoring for additional H-1B visas to hire foreigners would be forced to give priority to American job seekers under a new U.S. Senate proposal.

Just before Congress departed for its spring recess at the end of last week, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a bill--which appears to be the first of its kind in the Senate--designed to curb abuse of the controversial worker visa system.

'Our immigration policy should seek to complement our U.S. workforce, not replace it,' Durbin said in a statement. ...

The 32-page Senate bill would impose a host of additional obligations on employers. They would be required to pledge that they made a 'good faith' effort to hire an American before taking on an H-1B worker and that the foreigner was not displacing a prospective U.S. worker.

Employers would also have to advertise job openings for 30 days on the Department of Labor's Web site before making H-1B visa applications, and they would be prohibited from advertising positions only to H-1B holders.

In addition, companies with 50 or more workers would not be allowed to employ more than half of their staff through H-1B visas.

In an attempt to discourage employers from hiring foreigners at lower wages than their American counterparts would command, employers would have to pay all H-1B workers the 'prevailing wage,' as calculated by a different method that raises the minimum to a higher level than it currently stands.

The proposal also aims to beef up the Department of Labor's authority to investigate abuses, giving the department the power to conduct random audits on employers, to review applications for 'clear indicators of fraud,' and to hire 200 additional employees to administer, oversee and enforce the H-1B program.

Grassley described the bill as aimed at 'closing loopholes that employers have exploited by requiring them to be more transparent about their hiring and...ensuring more oversight of these visa programs to reduce fraud and abuse.'


High-tech industry trade groups have long said the H-1B system is critical to relieving shortages of qualified U.S. workers and have called for its expansion. ....

Groups such as the Programmers Guild and IEEE-USA that represent American programmers and engineers argue that it's far more important to remedy the existing system. They say it's riddled with abuses that make it possible for firms to hire H-1B workers at substandard salaries and to scrimp on recruiting Americans.

Programmers Guild founder John Miano said he is 'genuinely enthusiastic' about the Grassley-Durbin effort, which he called a 'comprehensive' approach that could go a long way toward fixing what critics perceive as problems with the system. ...

Kara Calvert, director of government relations for the Information Technology Industry Council, said she found components of the bill 'worrisome' and hoped the measure would not go anywhere. ITIC's members include Apple, Dell, Cisco Systems, IBM, Intel and Microsoft.

'The bottom line is we are not opposed to U.S. laws that prevent fraud and abuse within the immigration system, particularly within the H-1B, L and employment-based programs,' she said. 'Any revisions to U.S. law, however, must be carefully and narrowly drafted to avoid unintended consequences that will hinder the ability of U.S. companies to innovate.' "

.... (find the rest of the article at )

Translation: "How can we save the US economy, if we aren't allowed to reduce the American people to peonage? What fascinates me more than the attempt of certain companies to put this spin on their push to get cheap labor is the willingness of the very people they'd cheerfully reduce to starvation to buy the spin. Can you say "cognitive dissonance"? But that's probably hoping for too much out of my fellow citizens, so how about an Orwell reference like "doublethink"? Because if we're living in an era in which holding suspects without charge, indefinitely, is OK with people who see nothing odd about this being done in the name of the fight for freedom, I'm thinking that 1984 may be the book for our time, and this is just more of the same - seeing a population become so worshipful of authority that there is no mental contortion that it won't go through to rationalise what it is hearing, and no contradiction that it will feel compelled to notice.

How does one look at the dismal job market in engineering and almost everything else in the manufacturing sector, accept the reality of that, and at the same time maintain that there is a shortage of skilled personnel requiring that the government step in and intervene in the marketplace on behalf of employers with a desired change in immigration policy? How does one manage to simultaneously believe in a glut and a shortage? In the case of some of the companies speaking out, we know exactly how as we see in this article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette site, quoting an article in yes, that well-known liberal rag, the Wall Street journal.

"Behind engineer 'shortage': Employers are choosy

Wednesday, November 16, 2005
By Sharon Begley, The Wall Street Journal

Many companies say they're facing an increasingly severe shortage of engineers. It's so bad, some executives say, that Congress must act to boost funding for engineering education.

Yet unemployed engineers say there's actually a big surplus. "No one I know who has looked at the data with an open mind has been able to find any sign of a current shortage," says demographer Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

What's really going on? Consider the case of recruiter Rich Carver. In February, he got a call from the U.S. unit of JSP Corp., a Tokyo plastic-foam maker. The company was looking for an engineer with manufacturing experience to serve as a shift supervisor at its Butler, Pa., plant, which makes automobile-bumper parts.

Within two weeks, Mr. Carver and a colleague at the Hudson Highland Group had collected more than 200 resumes. They immediately eliminated just over 100 people who didn't have the required bachelor of science degree, even though many had the kind of job experience the company wanted. A further 65 or so then fell out of the running. Some were deemed overqualified. Others lacked experience with the proper manufacturing software. ...

To JSP, taking six months to fill the position confirmed its sense that competition for top engineers is intense. Company officials "struggle to fill" openings, says human-resources manager Vicki Senko.

But for candidates facing 200-to-1 odds of getting the job, the struggle seems all on their side. "Companies are looking for a five-pound butterfly. Not finding them doesn't mean there's a shortage of butterflies," says Richard Tax, president of the American Engineering Association ...

'Every few years there is a spurt of panic that we won't have enough engineers in five years,' says Paul Kostek, a systems engineer in Seattle who recently got a job at Boeing after working as a consultant for a decade. 'And I say to myself, gee, I'll still be here.'

In other words, the companies are terrified by the thought that insanely well-credentialed and talented people who've worked themselves to death putting themselves through demanding professional programs have become so scarce that if the law isn't changed to tilt the economic playing field more in their favor than it already has been tilted, that they may not be able to capriciously reject job applications any more and horror of horrors, might have to start paying these people for those decades of hard work. It is, of course, vitally important that the government step in to help drive down the wages of American professionals, and if you believe otherwise, obviously you don't believe in the free market.

At which point almost anybody should respond with a strange look and the word "huh?". Excuse this recovering campus libertarian, but that's not even Libertarianism. That's Corporatism. Libertarianism, in its nastier incarnations, may be indifferent when the American worker is shoved flat on his back and told to enjoy what is about to be done to him, but it is never cheerleading for the effort. "Lassez Faire" means that the government is neutral, not that it's anti-labor. "I steal from the poor and give to the rich" is a line from Monty Python, not from the Libertarian Party party platform, and until the Bush dynasty decided to grace America with its ruinous presence, this was not really what the Republican Party stood for either, though it certainly is what it stands for, now. Consider the nature of this allegedly free market. If Intel sends its factories over to a hostile country, technology, equipment, a few trainers and all, they are granted leave to do so in the name of free trade. If I, as an individual engineer, do a little research, develop a technology, and export it on my own, I get a twenty year prison sentence during peacetime, and face the possibility of execution for doing so during wartime. The law guarantees that American engineers become a captive source of labor for American employers, and the Bushites dare to call this legally unequal relationship the product of a free market.

It is nothing of the sort.

Opening the borders to let allegedly American companies bring in foreign labor while threatening American engineers who would sell their work overseas, then, is not justifiable even under the skewed criteria of the campus libertarian. Under the standard of common sense, it is even less so. Let us consider what is being asked of those going into the field, something that we've seen every American president since Reagan promote as an option for America's young people as each made use of the prestige of his office (to say nothing of the tax supported air time) to influence the views and choices of those at a trusting age - not that we should view THAT as being a form of intervention in the marketplace, Heaven forbid. To get through such a program, even on the bachelor's level, takes at least four years, and probably more like five, because courtesy of the YOYO (you're on your own) philosophy of that has dominated American government in the last few decades, one would be paying inflated tuition at schools that are known to price fix, sending tuitions skyrocketing at many times the rate of inflation, without any meaningful financial aid, at a time when the jobs they can get as they work their way through school barely pay a living wage. So they will get to work long hours before study, slowing their pace through school even more, and making the job of guessing precisely which skills will be in demand when they get out even more a matter of blind luck and guesswork, but they'd better guess right, because if they don't come out with precisely the right mix, their lives are over. They will never find work, and will spend what remains of their lives on public aid, waiting for the welfare reform axe to fall, or scratching out a meager living doing odd jobs, because if you have one noticable skill that an employer doesn't need you're "overqualified" and there's no bouncing back from that.

Part of me is wondering when I should expect to see Rod Serling show up, because this can't possibly be happening, but as an old roommate of mine once pointed out, he never showed up during Night Gallery episodes, and this really does go beyond the Twilight Zone. The argument boils down to this: "Mr.Bush, if you don't distort immigration policy sufficiently to give us more of an upper hand when dealing with skilled labor, we won't be able to reward talented, hard working honest people for their years of labor by capriciously destroying their lives", and not only does most of Washington think that this makes perfect sense, most of the American people seem to do so as well. There's a word that applies to this kind of outlook, one that has fallen out of use in our postmodern, multicultural, Politically Correct world, but maybe it needs to be heard some more.


When somebody fights to twist the rules so that an entire class of people can be paid back for working harder and knowing more than most of their peers with a massed attempt to pile driver them into the ground, that's not another point of view we're seeing in action, that's not another way of seeing things or a different lifestyle choice, that's just plain f***ing evil, and if there are any other words that fit, very few of them will be any more complimentary. "Live and let live" is not an appropriate response to this. Righteous rage is, and to raise a question that I've found myself wondering for some time, if this is what America stands for now, could some of us be finding that our patriotism has been sadly misplaced? At the very least, some of us should have the courage to tell our "friends" when they speak in support of such outrages that by definition, a friend is somebody who watches out for one, and then walk off, never to speak to such friends again. Tolerance, like patience, should have limits. Nobody would expect a steelworker to feel otherwise, to be accepting of the suggestion that there would be no injustice in him being arbitrarily left out on the street to starve, and there's no reason why an engineer, a scientist or any other professional should demand any less consideration. The day we truly lose hope in seeing that truth accepted is the day we should turn our backs on this country and find another where we will be better treated. Until then, let's take a look at bills like this one and see if there is still some hope for America as a place to live and care about, or if it is time to give up to reaching its people people and their government and move on to a place where ability and hard work still earn one respect, not barely disguised hatred.

As for those reading this who are not engineers or any other kind of professional who might wonder why they should care about the fate of a few privileged eggheads, I'd remind you that an education is not something that we were given for free or could be. It is something that those who possessed it worked long and hard for and it is the product of that work; if one has to work longer and defer gratification longer in exchange for less pay, in exactly what sense is one "privileged"? What we are looking for is nothing more than what other Americans have come to take for granted - a chance to have lives of our own, with enough pay to not have to wonder if dinner is going to be on the table, enough free time to catch our breaths and enough security to not have to always be looking over our shoulders wondering "what's next". That's getting to be part of life for fewer and fewer people in this country for a number of reasons, but highest on the list would have to be the fatal fascination the American people seem to have with the idea of looking for excuses for throwing each other to the wolves, one that signals to the predators among us that they may pick us off piecemeal, for they need not fear the possibility that one of us will see the support of the others. Yesterday, it was the machinists losing everything that they had in life, today it is the engineers, and tomorrow, who knows? What you can be sure of, though, is that if you and everybody else remains complacently accepting of this trend, your turn will come and when it does, you will have nothing that you can say on your own behalf, for nothing will have been done to you that you were not unreasonably comfortable with seeing done to others.

Still don't see a problem? Then let me leave you with this thought. We almost all come from other places, don't we? What happened to your families' loyalties when they came to this country? Did they not stop being Italians or Frenchmen or Germans and become Americans, albeit hyphenated Americans of some sort, and did their first loyalties not, very suddenly, become ones they felt for their new country and not their old? Let us say that the multitude of discouraged engineers, finding that their own people are enthusiastically embracing the idea of their gross betrayal, follow the precedent set by the ancestors of almost us all and seek greener pastures in other countries. Now let's say that the United States, having driven off the people whose work and knowledge gave it the technologies that did so much to give its soldiers an edge in battle, finds itself at war with one of the countries those engineers went to, probably along with a great many other skilled laborers whose patience, by now, is probably greatly strained. Who do you expect that they will be loyal to, the people of the country that drove them forth for no good reason or their friends and newly found loved ones, in the countries that took them in? Do you remember WHY those immigrant ancestors tended to be so patriotic?

How do you picture such a war turning out for the United States? Because you know, kids, there is no such thing as a weapon that there is no defense against, and sooner or later, probably sooner, those ICBMs that so many assume to be the eternal deterrent are going to look as comically impotent as the once invincible Roman phalanx or a Medieval pike wall would on the battlefield today. You move ahead today, or you're tomorrow's victim and the day after tomorrow's old news, and the very people on the verge of being driven out of this country are the very people who make moving forward a possibility. We've been loyal to this country for reasons that are a mystery to everybody, including ourselves. Maybe it's because when so much of the life you've chosen to live centers on building the world up, the idea of doing anything to help somebody who intends to tear some of it down becomes especially unnatural. But like anybody else, we have to do what we have to do, and if we are backed into a corner, in real life, that may end up being something with fairly unpleasant consequences for those we left behind. Think of the foreign scientists and engineers who gave America an edge over their former countries in times of war, ponder the increasing level of authoritarianism that is coming to be taken for granted in American politics, and ask yourself very seriously - did you really think that sword couldn't cut both ways? Did you really believe that there was one rule for your own country and another for all others, and if so, then do you not deserve to be surprised most cruelly if you had so embraced such an arrogant belief? Pride goeth before a fall, and a well needed fall it is, if nothing less will teach humility to the proud.

As for us, those who've found that the technical knowledge that we had worked so hard to obtain has cut us off from life, as we try to get by in a land that no longer has any love for justice, one way or another, we will adapt. We're practical people and that's what we do, even when adapation means adjusting not just one's actions, but one's views and loyalties as well. As you ponder the likely outcome of a war in a deeply impoverished post-outsourcing future in which America no longer has an appreciable industrial capability and has fallen behind its foes technologically, the question you might do well to ask yourself is how would you adapt to the new realities, because you might find them to be a little harsh.

Note added in August: Somewhat related material to be found in the "Reuter's 'immigration reform' article" thread on my Googlegroup.