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Dear Editor: 

Mr. Matloff’s article attempts to make a very simple deception: The H-1B program is misused by US employers who want to use cheap labor instead of more demanding US workers. The writer dismisses the safeguards that have been built into the H-1B law (the labor condition application). He says simply “The law requiring that H-1Bs be paid ‘prevailing wage’ is “riddled with loopholes,” nor does he identify the loopholes. In fact, it is clear that he does not understand the prevailing wage regulations. For example, he criticizes an H-1B wage of $35,000 per year as being under the “national average for new computer science graduates,” but the labor condition application is not built on the national average of wages -- it is built on the prevailing wage in a defined geographical area.

 The article discusses the H-1B program and efforts to raise the cap, however, in the 3rd paragraph the author introduces the term “computer programmer,” without any clarification. The purpose of the H-1B program is to bring to the US professional persons in the area of computer science, systems engineers, systems analysts, and programmers of computers used for scientific or engineering applications. The INA places the burden on the employer to demonstrate that the H-1B beneficiary is a professional person using theoretical knowledge to derive practical results. As the article develops, the term “programmer” becomes more confused. Does the author mean those types of professional persons described above or business programmers who, in any event, would not be able to qualify for an H-1B visa? What does the writer mean by “programmer”? He claims that major US “employers reject the vast majority of their applicants without even interview them.” Which jobs are these US workers seeking to fill? 

The writer asserts that “in spite of the fact that university computer science enrollment has doubles n the past few years, fewer than half of the computer science graduates are being offered programming positions. Employers are importing H-1Bs at lower salaries to do the programming, while shunting many Americans into lesser jobs such as customer support.” He does not support this assertion with any data. In the dynamic high-tech world where talent and creative ideas win the day, the statement on its face is incredible. And while the picture painted of dejected and out of work “older programmers” piques one’s sympathy, is it true? Is there really a phalanx of older computer professionals who cannot find programming jobs? What kind of professional knowledge do they have? What are their skills? For which jobs are they qualified? All of this is a mischievous distortion of the truth.

 Likewise the reference to “indentured servants” in the context of H-1B professionals is very emotional and mixes Mr. Matloff’s point about cheap H-1B labor into the complex setting of the permanent residency process. Given the plethora of unsubstantiated statements and emotional assertions in this article, one is left with only questions: Is the H-1B work force nothing more than cheap labor? Are US employers bypassing the wage safeguards built into the H-1B program? Is the H-1B law riddled with loopholes? Is the Department of Labor derelict in it oversight of the prevailing wage regulations? But perhaps the most interesting question is for the professor himself: What is US higher education doing to develop the computer science curriculum and to attract bright and talented young people to careers in computer science? It may just be that the need to bring foreign workers to the US to occupy professional positions in the computer industry has more to do with that question that the professor may wish to acknowledge. 


 Therese L. Stewart, Ed.D., Colombia University; M.A.T., Harvard University. Diploma in Curriculum Studies.