By Will Oremus | Posted Wednesday, July 3, 2013, at 3:10 PM
Companies like Google are starving for top engineers, but some American tech workers want to limit visas for highly skilled foreign workers.
Just in time for the national holiday, The Verge today has a story about how immigration reform could harm rank-and-file American information technology workers. “Is Silicon Valley’s immigration agenda gutting the tech industry’s middle class?”, the tech blog wants to know. Subtract “Silicon Valley” and “tech industry” from the headline and you have the age-old canard about furriners stealing Amurricans’ rightful jobs.
As we all know, Google's American software engineers are semi-literate buffoons who are too stupid to deserve to be paid well enough to afford to buy a house with a yard in an extremely expensive region. Why should they get paid enough to marry and have children? Don't we all know that the American Dream of random foreigners must take precedence over the xenophobic greed of mere Americans?
In this case, the furriners are not migrant farm workers but highly skilled tech workers entering the country on H-1B visas. The immigration bill that recently passed the Senate would expand the national cap on these visas from 85,000 to 180,000—or rather, “all the way up to 180,000,” as The Verge’s Ben Popper objectively phrases it. Silicon Valley companies
I.e., billionaires, who are, by definition, our moral superiors.
are all for the move, since it would bring in tens of thousands of ace engineers at a time when demand for top talent far exceeds the domestic supply.
At the level of salaries the billionaires would prefer to pay their workers so they can become even bigger billionaires. As Thomas Jefferson explained, that's the American Dream: for a few guys to get incredibly rich and have all other Americans reduced to debt peonage under them.
But it doesn’t sit well with some of Silicon Valley’s rank and file, who happen to like holding a monopoly on IT jobs in the world’s tech capital.
The horror of Americans trying to hold something of a monopoly on jobs in America at Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, whose billionaire owners would never, ever think about trying to exert any monopoly power to enrich themselves! If this kind of redneck populist thinking isn't squashed flat right now, these vicious American nativists might even start asking Apple and Microsoft to pay their corporate income taxes!
They have all sorts of justifications for their anti-immigration stance, but the most galling is when they put it in terms of their concern for the plight of the poor, exploited foreign workers who are taking their jobs, as they do throughout The Verge’s piece.
Oh yes, those poor, exploited, highly skilled foreign workers. Popper did not go so far as to actually talk to any of these foreign workers, as far as I can tell. Perhaps they were unable to return his calls because they were locked in Google’s secret “foreigners-only” basement sweatshop. But he did repeatedly quote one Kim Berry, a coder for the California Department of Health and spokesman for something called the Programmer’s Guild, who compares H-1B tech workers’ status to “indentured servitude.”
I, Will Oremus, point and sputter at the phrase "indentured servitude," so therefore I win!
Of course foreigners should be brought in and put under the control of rich men like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. That's how America was built! Cotton didn't pick itself, you know ...
Try not to forget all the lonely decades that Mark Zuckerberg sweated away to nurture an idea that only he, out of all the people in entire world, could ever have come up with. Where would we be without Zuck's breakthrough: Friendster for Harvard students?
Do you realize there are days, sometimes even weeks, when Zuckerberg's net worth dips from 11 figures to just 10 figures? Have you no pity?
My favorite quote from Berry, though, is the one where he unintentionally lays bare the hypocrisy at the root of his own argument: "American workers are being passed over in favor of foreign workers who make far less money, and politicians seem oblivious to our plight." That’s right: “our plight.” Not the plight of the foreign workers who make far less money. Berry’s real concern is the plight of the American IT workers who make far more money. Won’t anyone think of them?
Who do these American citizens think they are? Voters? The government needs to fix that quick by electing a new people. Why shouldn't American politicians be oblivious to American voters? Haven't you ever been to the Aspen Ideas Festival? If you had only been worthy of being invited, you'd know that billionaires are much more classy than (ugh) voters.
As twisted as that is, it might at least make some logical sense if it were true that foreign tech workers were being underpaid. In fact, as Popper duly notes, a Brookings study found that H1-B workers in the tech industry make 26 percent more than their American counterparts.
Obviously, billionaires want more H1-B visas so they can pay foreigners more money than Americans would cost for the same work. It's simple logic, but I'm not a billionaire genius, so don't ask me to explain it.
At the same time, it is true that some American graduates in science and engineering are being passed over for jobs. But it isn’t because there are foreigners will do those jobs for less money. It’s because there are foreigners who will do them better.
Or at lower price. In either case, it's all good for Billionaire-Americans.
That's why it isn’t the top American programmers who are threatened by the competition. As an Andressen Horowitz recruiter points out in Popper's story, it’s the ones who don’t have the skills that today’s tech companies need.
God forbid that the billionaires should pay to train American workers, especially senile ones over age 39. What next? Are these xenophobes then going to start suggesting that the billionaires might consider hiring American women to program? What insanity will they propose after that? That Silicon Valley hire a few Mexican-Americans and African-Americans?
If Americans want jobs programming, all they have to do is be programming geniuses like Marc Andreessen. If they aren't cut out to be billionaires, then, who needs Americans? What have your fellow countrymen ever done for you or yours? What did their ancestors ever do for your ancestors?
Historically, even the country’s least-skilled IT workers could count on cushy jobs with good pay. That isn’t because their work is inherently more valuable than that of, say, teachers. It’s because they didn’t have much competition. That’s changing, and they’re upset about it, and that’s understandable. But they should recognize that limiting H-1B visas will only hurt Silicon Valley in the long run.
As we all know, Silicon Valley is barely hanging on by its fingernails. Without increasing H-1B visas, all the tech billionaires will up and flee to India. Tumbleweeds will be blowing down Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto within three years.
It's just like how Congress drove Hollywood out of business by not granting H-1B visas for a massive influx of foreign gaffers, key grips, and best boys. Forcing Hollywood to pay market wages to American workers is why the last BMW dealership on Sunset Blvd. just folded up. That's why this weekend the big release at American movie theatres is Bollywood's The Lone Rajah. We can't have that happen to Silicon Valley, too!
And they should stop pretending that they’re serving anyone but themselves by fighting to keep foreigners out.
Seriously, think about the men who fought 150 years ago today at Gettysburg. The two sides in Pickett's Charge had different opinions on what country they should be fighting for -- the Union or Old Virginia. But they didn't doubt that they and their countrymen were, to some degree, in it together.