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Summary:

Mark Zuckerberg has launched a new political group, FWD.us and has been joined by Silicon Valley luminaries. They want reform in immigration but their focus on technology and innovation centric changes doesn’t take into account the harsh reality of post industrial society & its invisible victims.

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Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg launched Fwd.us in a Washington Post opinion piece Thursday, a new group that is lobbying for a new approach to immigration in the U.S. He is joined by some Silicon Valley power houses — John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Dropbox’s Drew Houston and scores of others, including many Facebook alumni. In a carefully crafted piece for our capital city’s home paper, Zuckerberg told the story of his family. He talks about U.S. being left behind. Bring out the violins!

FWD.us is an organization started by key leaders in the tech community to promote policies to keep the United States and its citizens competitive in a global economy—including comprehensive immigration reform and education reform.

ellis island

I admire that Zuckerberg and his merry band of do-gooders for embarking on this quest. I also respect the idea of education reform and applaud the leadership position this group is taking here. And I also applaud the efforts the group will devote to science and innovation.

However, what I hate is the focus put on a specific immigration issue; but I am getting ahead of myself. This is from an op-ed currently on the FWD.us website:

The economy of the last century was primarily based on natural resources, industrial machines and manual labor. It was an economy where many of these resources were zero sum and controlled by companies. If someone else had an oil field, then you did not. There are only so many oil fields, and there is only so much wealth that can be created from them for society. Today’s economy is very different. It is primarily based on knowledge and ideas — resources that are renewable and available to everyone.

Yup, ideas and knowledge are renewable and available. But do they lay the bricks for the data centers that house Facebook’s servers? Do “ideas” — as Zuckerberg & Co describe — actually build the dams that in turn produce the electricity that helps you poke Mark? The food on your plate, it too is just bits and bytes?

Yup, those things don’t need people. They crop up magically. No natural resources, no machines, no manual labor, just …. ideas and knowledge!

What that snippet from FWD.us tells me that when it comes to our Silicon Valley leadership, there is a disconnect in understanding the real world that exists beyond the browser or the mobile phone. We don’t do empathy and human interactions very well in the Valley, especially companies whose raison d’être is social and people. You know, like Facebook.

The problem with this effort is that many of those leaders live in a bubble that is of their own making and have little interaction with the real world. The fact is that any immigration reform needs to dovetail with the domestic reality of the 21st century America. In order to change the world and wanting new policies, there needs to be a deeper understanding of the world around us.

The Flyover Nation

Between Sand Hill Road and Wall Street lies a big country that is going to bear the brunt of the coming connected age. Sorry Mark, but in the age of data, Facebook is Standard Oil and you are Rockefeller. And unfortunately, you have the data and we don’t. If we did, there would be naked transparency on data and privacy from Facebook. But I am digressing again.

Any immigration debate has to start with the education and re-education of the American workforce. With the coming connected age and continued proliferation of technology into our physical world, we are beginning to see disruption and massive displacement on a large scale. We don’t have the mechanisms in place to train people for this quantified societywhere data looks to become the ultimate arbiter. How can we have any talk of immigration and a knowledge economy that doesn’t acknowledge that there is a silent desperation outside of Silicon Valley and New York and Washington, D.C.?

People talk about robot-helpers and an army of drones, but I don’t hear how the factory workers and farmers will actually learn how to use them, as well as tame the data these gizmos will throw up and then will put it to work. What is going to happen to millions of people who will be replaced by those drones and robots? After all, they are as much a part of the capitalist food chain that makes the world go around. Damn … if we are going to continue to be an innovation economy, then it has to be about more than a couple of million people.

The Invisibles

fwdus

Now let’s talk about immigration issues, because when I see FWD.us and the focus of its charter, I see the same old self-serving argument the technology industry serves up when it comes to immigration reform. In my years of writing about technology, I have seen pretty much the same argument made every single time — just change the billionaire or the company clamoring for this change.

Every discussion is about getting startup visas, or visas for engineers and knowledge workers and experts and how we need to get these people to stay in the U.S. after they are done with college. Let’s not trivialize the challenges facing our society and the reality of immigration and job creation in today’s world.

As an immigrant, I see any such discussion as limited. We can’t have a discussion about immigration reform unless we talk about other immigrants — the invisibles who do a lot of the work in the offices of Facebook and Yahoo, but never get invited to the IPO party or are handed an iPhone. How can we have a lobby group which has no representation from those people? Instead we have this:

Across America, creative, hardworking people in coffee shops, dorm rooms and garages are creating the next era of growth. Let’s embrace our future as a knowledge economy and help them — and all of us — reach our full potential.

If Mark and others really cared deeply about immigration reform on a holistic level then the conversation would involve a whole lot of other people — members of non-engineering and non-technology corps. So, no, I don’t buy that just because an immigrant works on an algorithm make her more important.

I know, because I am one. Perhaps FWD.us and Zuckerberg should start actually learning about the whole and real problem: a society disrupted in connected age.

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  1. Ok, so what is the true purpose of this political group, because we know Mark and co. is not truly concerned with immigration reform for all?

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    1. Justin McCandless Friday, April 12, 2013

      The true purpose of this political group is to get these tech companies cheaper access to a bigger talent pool.

      Share
      1. Get cheaper access to a bigger talent pool (Without having to move their offices out of US, to stay competent)

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        1. Actually, it often costs more to employ a foreign worker than a U.S. worker. The employer is bound by salary requirements set forth by the DOL and the fees involved with the visa process as well as getting a green card process add even more to the tally. Ther eis also more liability involved. Employing foreign workers is not a first option for most Silicon Valley tech companies, it is a fallback.

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          1. That may be true for direct employment, but most foreign workers that are here (in IT roles) are under the umbrella of a “consulting” company and are substantially cheaper than an American worker, direct or 1099.

            That’s the point of having them in. It isn’t because of some perception at the CIO level that Indian consultants are better than Americans. It’s the money.

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            1. Just thought I would come back and respond to this as I think you misrepresent how this process works with regard to technology professionals. Third party contractors are still obligated by the same salary requirements for the region/city in which a foreign national is employed. If a sponsoring employer listed on an H-1B ignores these rules, they are breaking the law. Of course these scenarios do exist; there will always be abuses of the law. But abuses are the exception, not the norm.

              You comment that “It’s the money” that drives this illegal practice of underpaid foreign born professionals. Of course it’s the money! The flow of skilled workers facilitates the making of money. Without Engineers from around the world, the U.S. would not be the technology leader that it is today. But to say foreign workers in the technology sector are paid less on the whole than U.S. workers in the same sector ignores the problems companies have meeting the salary requirements set forth by the government wherein a foreign worker is often required to make more than their U.S. counterpart. This is a daily occurrence of which I have first hand experience. Based on this information, I think U.S. workers have more of a right to make the claim “It’s the money” as it seems the skilled workers from our own soil is valued at less than a foreign worker. Please stop spreading nonsense.

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            2. PerturbedPundit Tuesday, April 16, 2013

              It is you who is spreading nonsense. Here’s why:

              “Third party contractors are still obligated by the same salary requirements for the region/city in which a foreign national is employed.”

              There are multiple loopholes in the H-1B visa laws that allow employers to LEGALLY pay H-1B beneficiaries below market wages. Here are just some of them:

              1) The prevailing wage is based on a broad job description and not the WORKER. Consider this example: The prevailing wage levels for OES occupation code 15-1132.00 which is “Software Developers, Applications” are:

              Level 1 Wage:$34.26 hour – $71,261 year
              Level 2 Wage:$42.02 hour – $87,402 year
              Level 3 Wage:$49.77 hour – $103,522 year
              Level 4 Wage:$57.53 hour – $119,662 year

              The Department of Labor defines the skill levels as:

              - Level I: (entry) wage rates are assigned to job offers for beginning level employees who have only a basic understanding of the occupation. These employees perform routine tasks that require limited, if any, exercise of judgment. The tasks provide experience and familiarization with the employer’s methods, practices, and programs. . . . Statements that the job offer is for a research fellow, a worker in training, or an internship are indicators that a Level I wage should be considered.

              - Level II: (qualified) wage rates are assigned to job offers for qualified employees who have attained, either through education or experience, a good understanding of the occupation….

              - Level III: (experienced) wage rates are assigned to job offers for experienced employees who have a sound understanding of the occupation and have attained, either through education or experience, special skills or knowledge. . . . Words such as ‘lead’ (lead analyst),
              ‘senior’ (senior programmer), ‘head’ (head nurse), ‘chief’ (crew chief), or ‘journeyman’ (journeyman plumber) would be indicators that a Level III wage should be considered.

              - Level IV: (fully competent) wage rates are assigned to job offers for competent employees who have sufficient experience in the occupation to plan and conduct work requiring judgment and the independent evaluation, selection, modification, and application of standard procedures and techniques….

              Do you see anything in those levels to account for the fact that an H-1B worker may have a masters degree? No premium for a masters over a bachelors? Do you see anything in those levels to account for hot skills, like Android development over, say, Cobol development? Workers with hot skills and higher education levels should be paid a premium, yet the prevailing wage levels do not take those things into account.

              Level One represents about the 17th percentile of wage average Americans earn. ABOUT 80% of LCAs are filed at this 17th percentile level. This four-level prevailing wage can be obtained from the DOL website, and is generally far lower than average wages.

              From Wikipedia: “The ‘prevailing wage’ stipulation is allegedly vague and thus easy to manipulate, resulting in employers underpaying visa workers. According to Ron Hira, assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the median wage in 2005 for new H-1B information technology (IT) was just $50,000, which is even lower than starting wages for IT graduates with a B.S. degree. The US government OES office’s data indicates that 90 percent of H-1B IT wages were below the median US wage for the same occupation”

              Now, you might be saying, “Yeah, but the law requires that an employer pays H-1B non-immigrants the same wage level paid to all other individuals with similar experience and qualifications for that specific employment, or the prevailing wage for the occupation in the area of employment, whichever is higher.”, but loopholes abound. The employer can tailor the job description with such ridiculous requirements that no one would be able to fill it, thus allowing them to pay the prevailing wage.

              Sources:
              http://www.flcdatacenter.com/OesQuick.aspx
              http://www.cis.org/articles/2007/back407.html
              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H-1B_visa

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  2. Thank you for writing about this Om, and appreciate your personal perspective as well. My parents were also non-engineering and non-technology immigrants. -Tantek

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  3. brillo piece Om. Wholly agree. Now if only someone can arrive at a suitable label for this phenomena. Too bad Objectivism is taken.

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  4. marianne doczi Thursday, April 11, 2013

    Have just spent days at hospital bedside of dying relative. Immigration is about nurses, cleaners, consultants, kitchen staff, porters. We don’t just consume virtual products, we live in a world where people2people services need as much consideration. Thanks for calling the intellectual and practical limitations of their political agenda.

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  5. Thanks,
    but I think you live in the wrong spot for long term thinking. FB just wants some code monkeys tapping on keyboards. The funny thing is, I’m an immigrant, got here to do some secretive stuff with computers and the last thing I would do be a code monkey.

    Maybe they should talk to another immigrant, Andy Grove.
    Andy Grove: How America Can Create Jobs[1]

    1. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_28/b4186048358596.htm

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  6. You are confusing immigration reform with labor market reform. Retraining or rehabilitating obsolete workers due to automation is a real issue, but it doesn’t have to be part of immigration reform. I agree that the zuck group seems to be motivated by their business interest. So, what’s wrong with that? If serving their self interest leads to viable immigration reform then so be it.

    GG

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    1. Fwd US Is Wrong Thursday, April 11, 2013

      Business interests frequently collide with the national interest. For instance, Zuck et al might want to recreate Foxconn in the U.S., but that wouldn’t be in the national interest.

      Zuck et al don’t want to go that far, but what they do want is not in the national interest.

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    2. What if it doesn’t? Half the kids who graduate from American universities every year can’t find jobs or are underemployed. Increasingly, IT degrees are being shunned because the labor market is saturated with skilled people who can’t find jobs in those fields, while the Silicon Satraps continually scheme to import cheaper labor. How is any of that in the national interest?

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      1. hehe – although i have no real plans of moving to the US I come to see that the imigration problem is ubiquitous. There is ALWAYS a suply of cheaper labor force with adequate education and/or credentials. And also a rising wave of people opposing their import. I think however it’s unstoppable. The people ARE there, they do have ideas, they WILL start businesses or help other people’s businesses grow. The only question is – do you want them to do it in the US (or Europe in my case) or let them do it in China? The downside of letting them work here is that they can offer better quality/cost ratio thus rendering some of the current citizen obsolete in the labor market. the downside of letting them work in China/Asia is that this way they will help China/Asia get a bigger and bigger share of the most profitable industry there is now – technology businesses…

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  7. Also what is pointed out in this reform proposal is exactly the gang of 8 is already working on in congress and goes to senate in less than a month. What’s new this group wants?

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  8. Peter Delevett, SJMN Thursday, April 11, 2013

    Lots of good thoughts here, Om – and you’re not the only critic (http://on.ft.com/10Pc2uJ). I think the mood in Washington seems to agree with you that H-1Bs and e-visas need to go hand in hand with (or even in line behind) broader, blue-collar immigration reform. As a valley journalist since the dot-com era, I’ve seen a readiness by tech execs to clamor for more H-1Bs instead of for better public-school funding… or for training and hiring older workers whose tech skills might have gotten a little rusty.

    At the same time, I think Zuck and co. are to be commended for getting into a public policy debate in a big and well-financed way. Bill Gates was well into his 40s and a billionaire many times over before he began to turn his attention to the world outside his door.

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  9. Srihari Yamanoor Thursday, April 11, 2013

    I don’t know. Whenever immigration comes up, everyone goes on and on about undocumented immigration, and forgets the plight of thousands upon thousands of engineers, who are here legally and yet in a limbo. Who speaks for us? No one.

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    1. Gregorio Rojas Friday, April 12, 2013

      Srihari… apparently you have some people speaking for you and they are pretty powerful people.

      But to follow your point, why should we not talk about undocumented immigrants? They have a plight as well, only with fewer to none of the options that someone with an IT background would have.

      Also, I may have missed this in this article, but i do not think it says we should not include reform for the high skilled immigrants. i know when i talk about reform i am talking about reform for everyone. why do have to leave any group out? doing that is wrong on many levels. there is strength in numbers.

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