Now it’s official: Despite happy talk about doing what’s best for America, Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and the cadre of other Silicon Valley titans helping with his new lobbying organization FWD.us are looking out for their own self-interest, just like every previous political action committee or billionaires’ club.
Zuckerberg tried to explain himself the other day in the Washington Post, writing that U.S. immigration policy today is “unfit for today’s world. … To lead the world in this new economy, we need the most talented and hardest-working people. We need to train and attract the best.”
What that means is that Zuckerberg and allies from companies like Google, Netflix, Microsoft, Yahoo, Yelp and LinkedIn, along with some of the venture capitalists who bankroll many Silicon Valley high-tech start-ups, want to bring in more workers on H-1B visas.
They argue there aren’t enough American-born math and science majors to fill all job openings, leaving many companies starving for qualified workers.
But critics call that claim exaggerated, suggesting the real motive is to bring in workers at wages far below those the companies would have to pay equally qualified American citizens. They say the H-1B program, which lets companies bring in 65,000 workers annually for six-year sojourns, trains foreign workers who often continue in similar jobs for the same companies in their home countries after the visas expire. So the H-1B program, they say, is essentially an outsourcing system designed to save companies money and ship American jobs overseas.
One critic is Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at the Rochester, N.Y., Institute of Technology.
He told National Public Radio the other day that “What these firms do is exploit the loopholes in the H-1B program to bring in on-site workers to learn the jobs of Americans to then ship (jobs) offshore. And also to bring in on-site workers who are cheaper (to) undercut American workers’ rights here.”
Stunningly, three of the four largest users of H-1B visas — aimed at bringing in skilled workers to fill jobs for which no Americans qualify — last year were Infosys, Wipro and Tata, all India-based high-tech firms with facilities in the United States. H-1B workers are often paid 70 percent or less of what U.S. citizens make for the same work.
The biggest H-1B users did not answer queries about their use of the visas and the salaries they pay, but current immigration law requires that the workers get “prevailing wages.” However, the federal Government Accountability Office has found that supervision is “cursory” at best, which means companies can get away with paying far lower wages to immigrants than to citizens, because the immigrants are so happy to be here, even temporarily, and what they get is still much more than they can earn at home.
So it’s easy to see why Zuckerberg and friends want more H-1Bs, despite any high-sounding talk. As with most things political, follow the money to get a better understanding.
But the high-tech tycoons know they’ll need politicians of all stripes behind them in order to get a big H-1B increase into whatever immigration bill Congress eventually passes this year. The latest version would raise the number to 110,000.
So to please conservatives, they’ve aired TV commercials in “red” states backing the Keystone XL pipeline, criticizing President Obama and his health care reform plan and touting the work of Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, who has come under fire from fellow GOPers for helping craft an immigration compromise.
They’ve also aired an aid praising Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska for supporting oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
To please liberals, they’ve paid for other ads praising more pro-environmental stands.
As the Business Insider blogger Henry Blodget put it, the idea of all these ads is “to grease senators on both sides of the aisle,” even if Zuckerberg and some of his friends who normally plug liberal causes might be appalled by some of the messages they are sending.
Which means that while Zuckerberg may be a newfangled social network trailblazer, he’s following the old-fashioned political path of doing and saying and spending whatever it takes to get the votes he wants.
— Reach syndicated columnist Tom Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org