Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Competitiveness argument

Another favorite justification for needing more H-1B visas is "competitiveness".

Unlike the "innovation" argument, I do see some validity in this one. I have read articles where companies with new products in development were able to, as they claim "stretch their dollars further" because the product was developed overseas or by using H-1B workers. But, as a percentage of the entire workforce, the number of people engaged in such pursuits is miniscule. So, this particular competitiveness argument does not cause the type of widespread job displacement that is of primary concern. Large IT employers like insurance companies, banks, large manufacturers are not in this camp.

I think what the companies that advance this reason are really talking about is their distrust of each other and the need to one-up each other. I liken it to Google, Yahoo and MSN all agreeing to go along with the Chinese government's injunctions about privacy and blocking of certain key terms such as "freedom" because of their desire to remain as players in the large and largely untapped Chinese market. Clearly, companies that (rightly) push back here in the U.S. when asked by the FBI (and other agencies) to divulge private information, bend over backwards to indulge the Chinese government. I think the CEOs of these companies could just as easily -- jointly -- take a principled stand and tell the Chinese govt to go take a hike.

Similarly, companies that need to remain competitive could just as easily jointly decide that their desire to remain competitive with each other would not trump principles of fairness and integrity.

What do I mean by "fairness and integrity"? For starters, not blaming American workers' lack of education for the companies' desire to hire CHEAP labor anywhere and everywhere that they can find it. For another, establishing and encouraging K-12 programs and scholarships that help those Americans who are lagging behind catch up. I am thinking of inner city schools and disadvantaged youth who don't even consider college because of the high cost of education. Last week I heard a heartbreaking show on NPR about the twin demons of the high rates of high school dropouts among African-Americans and the high level of unemployment among them. Surely, the corporations can find a way to help their fellow citizens even as they seek greener pastures elsewhere?

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