Michelle Malkin and John Miano, Sold Out: How High-Tech Billionaires & Bipartisan Beltway Crapweasels Are Screwing America’s Best & Brightest Workers, Mercury Ink, 2015, 480 pp., $28.00 (hardcover)
Sold Out, by columnist Michelle Malkin and John Miano of the Center for Immigration Studies, begins with a meeting in October 2014. Disney executives told several hundred tech workers that they were going to be laid off and replaced by lower-paid workers from India with H-1B visas. If they refused to train their replacements, they would get no severance pay. Disney CEO Bob Iger then lobbied Washington for more H-1B visas, telling Congress an outright lie: that Disney was not replacing permanent employees.
Sold Out then tells the story of Jennifer Wedel, who had a chance to record the following question for President Obama as a YouTube video:
Hi, Mr. President. My husband has an engineering degree with over ten years of experience, and he was laid off three years ago and has yet to find a permanent job in his field. My question to you is why does the government continue to issue and extend H-1B visas when there are tons of Americans just like my husband with no job?
President Obama danced away from the question, mouthing inanities about “a huge demand around the country for engineers.”
The H-1B visa program was greatly expanded by legislation signed in November 1990 to alleviate an alleged shortage of IT workers. That month the unemployment rate was 6.2 percent. The United States was in a recession from July 1990 to March 1991, so it is unlikely there was a shortage. There is certainly no shortage now, or Disney would not have fired hundreds of Americans and Mr. Wedel would have found another job.
Sold Out notes that, in July 2014, the Census Bureau reported that “74 percent of those who have a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are not employed in STEM occupations.” Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama has pointed out that “about 35 percent of science students, 55 percent of technology students, 20 percent of engineering students and 30 percent of math students who recently graduated are now working in jobs that don’t require any four-year college degree.” Furthermore, wages in the profitable IT industry have been largely flat for more than a decade–which would not be the case if there were not enough workers.
An IT graduate who does not get an IT position within a year of graduation will almost certainly never get one. Employers want engineers with the latest skills. They suspect that graduates who have been away from the field have forgotten some of what they have learned, and that if they were worth anything they would have been hired by someone else.
Even IT graduates who do get jobs face further hurdles once they are over 40. They are more likely to be laid off, and less likely to find another IT job. If they get one they will almost certainly be paid less than they were in their previous job. Partly, this is because they face open prejudice. Michelle Malkin and John Miano write that “at a tech conference in 2007 in which he advised companies not to hire workers over thirty, baby-faced Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg infamously bragged: ‘Young people are just smarter.’ ”
Bill Gates and the Heritage Foundation claim that each H-1B visa creates five jobs for American citizens. Sold Out points out how silly this argument is:
Between 2001 and 2013, the average yearly job growth in the US has been 540,000. The average new number of H-1B visas has been 118,000 a year . . . If each H-1B visa creates five additional jobs, it would mean H-1B visas are responsible for more than 100 percent of job creation in the US economy–590,000 jobs a year.
Although Michelle Malkin is a Republican commentator, this book spares neither Republicans nor Democrats: “The administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama sneakily expanded the foreign worker supply by administrative fiat.” She blames “the Big Government/Big Business alliances” for “harming our country.”
Because the United States has become so politically polarized, many Americans think at least one side has our best interests at heart. This is often untrue. Sold Out points out that of all the primary candidates for the 2016 presidential election, only Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were not committed to increasing the number of H-1B visas, and even they didn’t have clean records.
Mr. Trump’s companies have imported over 1,000 guest workers, including 250 foreign models on H-1B visas. He justified this by saying, “I want talented people to come into this country–to work hard and to become citizens. Silicon Valley needs engineers, etc.”
Mr. Sanders protested loudly against a bill that would greatly increase the number of H-1B visas. Then he voted for it. This happens on both sides of the aisle. Politicians complain about the decline in middle-class jobs and incomes, and then quietly advance a policy that contributes to these declines.
The authors do not condemn foreigners who come in on these visas. The villains are the executives and politicians who exploit the poverty of H-1B visa holders to then impoverish American citizens. Visa-holders are usually poorly paid and badly treated; if they complain they can be sent home.
Republicans like H-1B visas because they increase profits for IT firms. Moreover, even though immigrants usually vote Democrat, H-1B visa holders cannot vote.
Democrats like to think of “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but the main reason for Democrat treachery is that IT executives make generous contributions to politicians of both parties. By emphasizing that both Democrats and Republicans promote H-1B visas, this book may persuade readers there is no political solution. In fact, H-1B visas harm people in many other professions–not just IT–so the program will expand until it threatens more and more Americans. Politicians need to be grilled about this.
A few are on our side, and the authors give Sen. Jeff Sessions some of the praise he deserves. They should have given him more, and written up other politicians who oppose H-1B visas, even at the cost of losing contributions from IT corporations.
This book is longer than it needs to be. It contains too many anecdotes about employees whose lives were damaged by H-1B visas, and politicians who have contributed to the damage. Just a few of the more lurid stories of corporate and political malfeasance would have been enough. I would have preferred more statistics and quotes from credible sources that demonstrate there is no shortage of American STEM workers, but the big picture is easy to see: H-1B visas and similar programs cut costs for IT employers while they hurt Americans with technical training.
But don’t other Americans benefit from less expensive technology? That is a complex issue. Computers and cell phones have greatly enriched our lives. However, technology makes possible the automation and off-shoring that have cut the incomes of so many Americans.
In my first job as a programmer I wrote two routines in the ancient, mainframe language COBOL, which enabled my company to fire four clerical workers. My boss was pleased, but I was upset. However, I could not have saved those jobs. If I had refused to write those programs, my boss would have fired me and hired someone else to write them.
Changing technology brings winners and losers, but the government should ensure that as many of the winners and as few of the losers are American. Our government doesn’t care.