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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy


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This morning the Associated Press is running one of the most unfair pieces I've seen in a long time regarding the H-1B visa program. I expect this sort of thing out of the xenophobic fringe press, but the AP is an organization that used to be known for objectivity. The story focuses on the hiring of H-1B workers in the banking sector and is running with the headline "Bailout banks tried to hire foreign workers." Ooh. That's really bad. Lots of Americans losing their jobs and here are these greedy banks hiring cheap foreign workers to replace them. The public has a right to know!

Let's discuss the facts cited in the article first and then we can move on to some of the really biased analysis. The AP's Frank Bass and Rita Beamish (it took two reporters to get a story this wrong?) tell readers that banks receiving more than $150 billion in bailout money hired more than 21,800 foreign workers. Wow. Oh wait, that's over the last six years. So we're talking about 3500 workers a year on average. And some of those years were in a pretty strong economy.

But how much does 3500 even mean? How many workers are there in the banking sector? Quite a lot, actually. According to the Labor Department, even with the economic downturn, there are still more than 8 million workers in the sector. And as of last year around this time, unemployment in the banking sector was just 3.2%. Most of the workers included in the 21,000 were brought in during this extremely low unemployment period.

So let's just be clear - banks seek to fill .04% of their workforce with H-1B workers. The horror!

The AP then goes on to mention that in fiscal year 2008, banks "sought" 4,163 H-1B visas. A couple of points that the reporters failed to mention:

- Fiscal year 2008 actually runs from October 1, 2007 until September 30, 2008. Because of high demand for the H-1B visa, applications must be filed six months ahead of the start of the fiscal year to have any chance so that means these applications were filed in April 2007.

- The number cited is the number of visas sought, not the number actually used. First, only about half of applicants actually got H-1B visas for fiscal year 2008 because of excessive demand. Second, many applicants who are approved for a visa by USCIS don't actually end up claiming the visa at a US consulate and entering to work for the sponsoring employer.

- A lot of those H-1B workers were educated in the US - many receiving MBAs at American universities around the country. We educated these folks so why should we not benefit from their work?

- Just how many H-1B workers in banking have been laid off? I know anecdotally quite a few because I've been helping many people facing sudden unemployment. This is absolutely critical to the story yet it is something left unanswered.

It became apparent to me reading a bit further in the article that this is just a hit piece set up by the same anti-H-1B folks in the high tech sector that have been pushing for protectionism for years. In fact, the only people quoted in the story are Programmers Guild members and Senator Chuck Grassley whose record on this issue speaks for itself. Funny how they can't find a single unemployed banking industry worker they can ask about supposedly training their foreign replacement.

And look at this statement in the story simply recited as fact:

Foreigners are attractive hires because companies have found ways to pay them less than American workers.

Aside from the fact that this is patently untrue, the reporters don't even bother to cite any studies showing this is true. They just state that companies routinely seek to replace more experienced hire paid Americans with these workers. Of course, if this were really possible, I suspect we would see more than .04% of the banking sector filled with H-1B workers. These are greedy bankers after all.

When newspapers that are struggling to survive are shelling out big bucks to the AP to run their wire stories, shouldn't they expect better?

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  1. Legal and no longer waiting's Avatar
    It is my understanding that the 21K figure over the 6 years includes transfers and extentions, thus the actual number of unique workers for which these petitions were filed is likely well under 15K (at least half of workers had their H1 longer than 3 years, thus needed to extend their visa - but many changed jobs within the undustry too, thus, transfers).

    I would also note that the number refers to a "dozen banks" - thus, only 400 per bank, and with 50% of them extentions and transfers, it's just 200 new workers per bank. Take medium sized investment bank of 20,000, and that's 1% of their workers.

    There also was one more interesting statistic - average LCA salary of $90,721 (that's before bonuses and other forms of compensation, which we know are a good chunk of banker's income). We also know that the vast majority of H1 workers are young professionals under the age of 35. Now, it is beyond me how the Losers' Guild can claim that people under 35 making 6 digits are "cheap labor". It rather appears that these workers are highly educated and qualified upwardly mobile professionals, and that's of course exactly the kind of people you want to retain in this country.

    P.S. Have you seen this guy's photo? Would you hire him?...
  2. Grace's Avatar
    Greg, thanks for the analysis, but you missed one item that's deceptive about the story.

    The article says they relied on DOL LCA data to determine the number of visas sought. All that you get from DOL is an LCA, and often the LCA is never used to support a subsequent H-1B visa petition. Employers may file an LCA, then not proceed with an H-1B petition, or the LCA is filed to support an amendment of an existing H-1B worker.

    I agree with your analysis that this article was set up as a hit piece from the get go - all of the usual Programmers Guild suspects contributed, and I would suspect that the AP reporters let the Programmers Guild guys tell them how to report the piece.
  3. giuseppe's Avatar
    Hi Greg,
    another article that could be interesting

    let me know if you can access it or not, i can send you a pdf copy
  4. George Chell's Avatar
    Americans who complain about foreigners working in this country are plainly selfish. Other than Grassley they have little or nothing to say about over five million Americans living and working abroad especially in places such as the UK and Singapore. Grassley is trying to put an end to Americans working abroad by frequently introducing legislation to eliminate the tax exemption of foreign workers making less than $82,000. He is of the view that Americans should work in the US and each foreigner should work in his or her country of citizenship. But, other than that everyone else is plain selfish, even Americans and British working in Dubai and Singapore who dont want citizens of their host country to work in the UK or the fact back in 1999 or 2000 there was a survery of foreign workers and their adult family members living and working in Singapore..and nealry 60% of the British and Americans working in that country did not want Singaporeans working in either the US or UK...plain selfish!
  5. Legal and no longer waiting's Avatar
    Is somebody planning to write a rebuttal to the OP? Greg, you have been active on the policy circuit, testifying to the Congress and what not. Maybe you can write a response and contact the news agencies on behalf of one of the pro-immigrant organizations?
  6. d's Avatar
    So what next , Banks should not be lending to foreignors? I am on H1b and have a mortgage with Countrywide , I am glad if countrywide or any of these guild clowns want to take my home and return my downpayment...
  7. asdf's Avatar
    I second lanw's thought. Greg, How about a rebuttal and distribute it via Reuters or even AP itself?
  8. George Chell's Avatar
    "So what next , Banks should not be lending to foreignors?"

    Not lending to foreigners? These banks should be taken over by foreign banks..Development Bank of Singapore would be a good candidate to takeover Bank of America. Perhaps foreigners should use their credit to the US to take over US banks run by bonus demanding incompetent American (at least mostly) executives!
  9. asp's Avatar

    Yes, I saw this article today morning and it made me sick. What surprised me the most was that it was a piece by AP.

    I know you are a busy man, but would like to know your thoughts on what a good way to respond might be ??
  10. Greg Siskind's Avatar
    I wrote a letter to the editor of my paper largely similar to this blog post. I would recommend readers write to their hometown papers that carried the piece and people are welcome to borrow my points in drafting your own letters.
  11. hmm's Avatar
    Looks like the market for news is getting real bad, so papers resort to tried and true methods, such as blaming bankers and foreigners.
  12. George Chell's Avatar
    "Yes, I saw this article today morning and it made me sick. What surprised me the most was that it was a piece by AP."

    If AP and antis can show me that a C average foreign student got hired over an A average American student I will side with them. Everytime I verify the claims of CIS and FAIR, the foreign student always had better grades. In other words, these groups are pretty hypocritical. When it comes to Affirmative Action they want the persons with the best grade to be hired. However, when it comes to foreign workers, they want less qualified Americans to be hired over better qualified foreigners, just because of citizenship! Of course none of these groups care about Americans..otherwise they will protesting the huge education budget cuts at the state level.

  13. AD's Avatar
    The article is not surprising as most of the media is a means for propaganda rather than accuracy anyway.

    Question is what exactly is it that Grassley, Durbin and others are laying the groundwork for?
  14. George Chell's Avatar
    "Question is what exactly is it that Grassley, Durbin and others are laying the groundwork for?"

    Grassley and Durbin are making sure that there is a jobless recovery later this year as US corporations move jobs to places such as Vancouver and Singapore. Jobs generally move to countries with a bigger market (ie., faster growing GDP relative to the US) and the only way that can be offset is to expand the skills at home in the short term. Due to budget cuts and the perennial quest for tax cuts, it would appear that we can only expand skills through skilled immigration. Strange..I dont see folks protesting skilled immigration fighting hard against education budget cuts in states such as California.

  15. AD's Avatar
    It was a honest question seeing how article was planted. Is something stirring wrt CIR, or is this just a defensive move in preparation for H1B filing season?
  16. George Chell's Avatar

    I think it is more of a defensive move.
  17. Legal and no longer waiting's Avatar
    I actually think that Losers' Guild has been out of the limelight so long they decided to to dust up their relevance and tie to the stimulus bill. Too bad their own message does not look consistent within itself.
  18. George Chell's Avatar
    "I actually think that Losers' Guild has been out of the limelight so long they decided to to dust up their relevance and tie to the stimulus bill. Too bad their own message does not look consistent within itself."

    I would be sympathetic to the Loser's Guild if they support increasing higher education budgets and training for Americans..they do not and only complain about foreign competition. Why? Because they dont like competition either from foreigners or Americans!

  19. Gene's Avatar
    A sure sign of plummeting journalistic standards.

    When journalists, and that too contributing to an agency such as the AP(and therefore presumably of some repute)can be turned into propaganda tools, it is truly a sad day.
  20. Rohit Sharma's Avatar
    And what they have not written that these bankers got the cream of those countries. I can atleast speak for India, they get people from IIT & IIMs, these are world class institutions, since US Banks started direct hiring from these Institutions in early 2000, Indian Banks and financial Instititions were crying foul to the govt. 'We spend our Tax rupees to teach these kids and they fly to foreign Lands'. They should be thankful Instead to snatch all those talents for free..
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