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'Most H1-B hopefuls are workers, not innovators'

April 29, 2008 12:21 IST

Most applicants of the H1-B visas, much sought-after by hi-tech professionals including Indians, are 'average' workers and not the 'innovators' as portrayed by industry lobbyists, a report has said, opposing the extension of the popular guest worker programmes.

New data analysis shows that the vast majority of H1-B workers, including those at most major tech firms, are not the innovators industry portrays them to be, the Centre for Immigration Studies (CIS) said in a statement.

"Those arguing for an increase in the number of H1-B visas claim that continued US leadership in science, technology, engineering and mathematics hinges on our ability to import the world's best engineers and scientists," it said.

The report titled 'H1-Bs: Still not the best and the brightest' is published in the May issue of CIS and is authored by Norman Matloff, professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis. The argument is based on the fact that in a market economy, if workers are indeed outstanding talents, they will be paid accordingly.

This has been determined by computing the ratio of the foreign worker's salary to the prevailing wage figure stated by the employer with the report calling this the 'Talent Measure' or TM.

A TM value of 1.0 means that the worker is merely average, not of outstanding talent. The key findings of the report were that the median TM value for majority of foreign workers was just a little over 1.0. The median TM value was also essentially 1.0 in each of the tech professions studied, and it was nearly same for almost all prominent tech firms that were analysed, the report said.

"TM values for workers from Western European countries tend to be much higher than those of their Asian counterparts," the CIS report said.

The report also makes the point that most foreign workers work at or near entry level, described by the US Department of Labour in terms akin to apprenticeship, therefore countering the claim of the industry that they hire the workers as 'key innovators'.

"The lobbyists love to claim that the industry resorts to hiring foreign workers because Americans are weak in math and science. Various international comparisons of math/science test scores at the K-12 level are offered as 'evidence'.

The claims are specious as both major sources of foreign tech workers -- India and China -- refuse to participate in those tests," Matloff said in the report.

"Nevertheless, the 'Asian mystique' persists. The image is that our tech industry owes its success to armies of mathematical geniuses arriving to US graduate schools from Asia. Once again, the data do not support this perception," he has argued.

"The facts show otherwise. Most foreign tech workers, particularly those from Asia, are in fact not 'the best and the brightest'. This is true both in overall and in the key tech occupations, and most importantly, in the firms most stridently demanding that the Congress admits more foreign workers. Expansion of the guest worker programmes both H1-B visas and green cards is unwarranted," Matloff said.

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