Silicon Valley Insider Tells the Unpleasant Truth about the H-1B Program

By David North on August 7, 2016

In a happy change, a Silicon Valley insider – whose resume includes the ownership of a yacht docked in the San Francisco Bay – describes the H-1B program in this manner:

The American immigrant visa system amounts to indentured servitude, a type of peonage.

This is in a newly-published, much-reviewed, tell-it-all book on the IT industry entitled Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley, by Antonio Garcia Martinez. See articles on the book in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Most of the book is the view of a somewhat cynical insider regarding the inner workings of IT start-ups and the rough-edged business culture of Silicon Valley, but Martinez does devote a few pages to the labor practices of the industry. His view is quite different from the rhetoric usually proclaimed by industry leaders to the effect that "we need the best and the brightest" and thus an unlimited supply of foreign workers.

Martinez writes:

Like the masters of old buying servants off the ship, tech companies are required to spend non-trivial sums for foreign hires . . . Big companies . . . are the real beneficiaries of this peonage system . . . It's a [lousy] deal for the immigrant visa holders but they put up with the five or so years of stultifying, exploitative labor as an admission ticket to the tech First World. After that they're free.

Martinez gets the basic concept – of shameless exploitation – better than he does the nitty gritty of the migration control process. He does not mean "immigrant visa holders" in the above quote, for example, he means temporary, non-immigrant (H-1B) visa holders who hope to be immigrants later.

Martinez's indentured labor metaphor workers well for one type of H-1B employer, but not another. The solution companies, Microsoft, Intel, etc., who hire H-1Bs and then seek green cards for a minority of these workers, fit his description.

But the Indian outsourcing companies (Infosys, Tata, Cognizant, etc.) do not. They simply use relatively cheap foreign workers for three to six years, and then discard them for newer, more pliable newcomers, almost totally from India. This is a kind of rotating slavery, not an indentured situation in which the green card for some is the end of the story. There are very few green cards sought for the outsourcing companies' workers.

That the H-1B program denies jobs to U.S. residents, particularly older (35+) ones, is not something he describes – but he gets the big picture right: H-1B is an exploitative system that fattens the already fat profits of big tech firms.