Quick Thoughts on the H-1B Minimum Wage

The latest immigration-related news to come out of the Trump administration is a proposal to double the current minimum wage of H-1B holders from $65K to $130K. I don’t have time to read the full contents of the proposed bill, but I feel strongly enough about the whole situation to draft a few quick comments.

The whole intention of the minimum wage is to establish a wage floor that’s consistent with the goals of the H-1B program: to bring highly-skilled talent to the United States. The minimum of $65K hasn’t actually changed since it was adopted as a rule in the late 80s.

I have a few questions that I don’t want to bother answering: Firstly, why set a minimum wage that isn’t tied to inflation? Secondly, why establish a set salary point when there are huge wage disparities that vary geographically? I understand we have a federal minimum wage, but there’s also a reason why our federalist system allows for states to establish their own minimum wages.

I’m frankly not even sure why there is even a minimum wage for the H-1B. The U.S. Department of Labor already mandates that foreign workers must be paid the prevailing wage– the whole point of that rule is 1) to prevent job displacement, and 2) ensure a competitive labor environment in H-1B dependent companies. The idea of equal talent = equal pay is not solved by some arbitrary standard.

Lastly, $130K is extraordinarily high. I get that the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lofgren, is a Californian where wages are stupendously inflated. However, the fact remains that the vast majority of H-1B holders don’t get paid anywhere near that amount. In fact, as lucrative as the industry is, the median salary for ALL software engineers, citizen or not, is still only (haha) $100K. That’s almost a quarter less than this $130K limit.

The one thing that I can appreciate is that Lofgren’s bill allegedly makes it easier for F-1 visa holders to gain a meaningful path to permanent residence. I haven’t read the bill so I’m not sure how H-1B plays into that, but I’m supportive of anything that rethinks the very monolithic lottery system.

I have plenty more thoughts forthcoming on H-1B reforms, so I’ll leave it at that.

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Filed under Cultural Diversity, Immigration, Uncategorized

On Immigration

I make it no secret that my views on immigration tend to be more progressive, as evidenced by my strong support for loosening restrictions on non-immigrant visas. Much of the pre and post-election discourse on immigration, of course, has largely revolved around the phenomenon of illegal immigration— that is, immigrants in the U.S. neither on a visa nor a green card.

Naturally, I believe that we have an illegal immigration problem precisely because our legal immigration outlets (inlets?) are so restrictive. You would think that a comprehensive immigration policy should consider both hand-in-hand, yet the rhetoric in the public arena seems to suggest otherwise. It’s why I don’t care for Trump’s talk for a border wall nor his desire to gut the H1-B.

The problem in conservative circles is that anti-immigration sentiment is not argued consistently from a logical standpoint. Those opposed to illegal immigration go the “rule of law” route, arguing that migrants are inherently criminals, by virtue of their defiance of living in the country sans proper authorization. But when sensible measures to expand legal authorization opportunities are considered, then arguments shift to a more protectionist standpoint.

A purely ideological opposition to immigration would indeed be protectionist and nationalistic in nature. It’s a result of a semi-resurgence in paleoconservative ideals— the notion that American policies should be protective of the interests of the homeland and those native to it. Being that I’m not a huge nationalist to begin with, I think there’s some folly in advancing a purely paleoconservative agenda for a country that is highly developed, highly globalized, and highly rooted in its “nation of immigrants” identity.

I’m cognizant of the fact that many in America don’t share that view that America is a “nation of immigrants.” To them, the distinctive American identity perhaps rests in individualism, or the Heartland, or industry. Whatever it is, the concept of foreign nationals flooding our borders is, in a sense, threatening. Not just from a national security standpoint, but also from a ‘way of life’ standpoint.

I can’t write these fears off as irrational because they are indeed legitimate, even if they may not be entirely pragmatic. The forces at work are the same ones responsible for anti-growth NIMBYism in localized politics, which is why many of the transit opponents I battled in my college days also happened to be political conservatives.  Yet they justified their viewpoints not so much for fiscal reasons, as one would think, but for reasons much more akin to nostalgia and reminiscence.

The New York Times published an expose on female Trump supporters, hoping to give the world some anecdotal accounts on how the narrative that Trump was anti-woman could possibly be thwarted by the 53% of white women who voted for him. I found some interesting tidbits in there on immigration:

The first one, from a Ms. Gregory:

I’m seeing a barrage of patients coming in from different countries. An Iraqi immigrant came in last night, he needs dialysis. He will never be productive in the U.S., he will always be dependent on Medicaid. I feel for him, I want to help him, but we have to take care of our own people first. Driving to work yesterday, I saw three homeless people. They need our help.

I can appreciate Ms. Gregory’s compassion for the Iraqi immigrant, but her conclusions about his utility as a worker are presumptive. Is he useless as a worker because of his dialysis or because he is an Iraqi immigrant? Or is it because he is on dialysis and just so happens to also be an immigrant? Her conflation of the two is troublesome because it can be inherently discriminatory.

In other words, is an American citizen on dialysis (and thus disability or welfare) of more value than an immigrant under the same conditions? If not, then the tidbit about being able to work is a mere red herring— it has nothing to do with how productive that person may or may not be. Furthermore, I would point out that it is a false dichotomy to proclaim mutual exclusivity between “taking care of our own” and helping immigrants.

Onto the second opinion, one from a Ms. Alighire:

I’m also concerned about immigration. I went to Minnesota and I had a Somali cabdriver who lectured me for 35 minutes to the airport about how women in America have too much freedom. My thought process on that is that I don’t like seeing people going through the hardship they go through, but I don’t want to go backwards in the feminist movement, either.

This opinion is interesting because it’s paleoconservative in nature but also highly unpragmatic. Firstly, note how Ms. Alighire’s sentiment toward immigrants is based on her experience with a Somali cabdriver and his views toward women. While it’s understandable why someone in the progressive Western world would balk at an Islamic fundamentalist viewpoint, note that Ms. Alighire is being reductionist in her conclusions on immigration as a general policy matter.

In other words, she is reducing the entire population of immigrants to one experience she had with a cabdriver. So then perhaps it is Muslim immigrants we should be wary about? I hope you notice the potential slippery slope there. If we ban Muslims in accordance with divergence from one particular value, then what can abate the unchecked labeling of other people groups who are in violation of other arbitrarily agreed-upon norms?

I think both Ms. Gregory and Ms. Alighire represent viewpoints that are not uncommon across America’s political landscapes. We can’t make a value judgment and say both women are wrong. But I think it’s important to have a logical foundation that undercuts the rhetoric. In both cases, ideology trumps pragmatism, which can be a dangerous pathway to take when developing public policy.

All in all, I hope people both on the left and on the right can steer clear of this folly. A sensible immigration policy is not possible apart from doing so and I fear that the next four years will consist of people talking soundly past each other. I care about immigrants but I also care about the way our language and discourse reflects who we are as a people. America has opportunity— the question is whether or not we will take advantage of it.

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Filed under Community, Demography, Immigration

The Broken Path of OPT to H-1B

This past week, a social media post from a friend of a friend went viral in the Facebook microsphere. The content? A story about why she (I’ll call her “J”), a Korean-American who has lived in the United States for twenty-four years, is facing deportation in about two months’ time. On the front, this story doesn’t make a lot of sense– most people figure that twenty-four years gives plenty of time to try to become a citizen, let alone attain permanent residency. But what isn’t making sense isn’t J’s story, it’s the system. The system that penalizes her for being a productive resident and the same system that pushed a lot of immigrants to Canada, when we could have taken them in.

I won’t copy the entirety of her post, but will summarize some of the important points:

  • J came to the U.S. as a child on her father’s student visa
  • J spent 2006-2014 working on her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Public Administration, all the while on her own student visa
  • J got a social work job at a local non-profit and started working there on her OPT (optional practical training)
  • J was promised an H-1B sponsorship for the upcoming application period
  • J had an opportunity to apply to a job more suited for her education and submitted an application
  • J was the most qualified candidate, but was ultimately rejected because of unfounded concerns that additional H-1B processing would be too costly
  • J’s initial H-1B application was denied because USCIS didn’t feel that her social work job aligned with her Public Administration degree
  • J has until January 2016 to either find an alternative solution or leave the country

As ludicrous as this story is, it might be much more common than you think. The fundamental flaw is that students working on the optional practical training (OPT) program are still limited by restrictions of the F-1 visa. The F-1 is a non-immigrant visa, and intent must be demonstrated as such. In other words, F-1 students are supposed to demonstrably show that they have every intention of returning to their home country upon completing their studies.

The OPT is quirky because while it’s designed to give students relevant work experience, it’s also driven by an “ulterior motive” to get competitive skilled labor to stay in the U.S long-term. If you don’t believe me, just look at the 17-month extension for STEM students, which was explicitly justified by a National Science Foundation report saying that the U.S. was at a competitive disadvantage for retaining U.S.-educated STEM workers.

So while the OPT is supposedly a pathway for prospective H-1B applicants, it’s tied down by the inherent design of the F-1, which basically shoos students away upon graduating. This is problematic because the H-1B is a dual-intent non-immigrant visa– visa holders are allowed to show that they have intention to immigrate to the United States. This is significant because it offers a big step toward permanent residency.

While I think the concept of intent is stupid and poorly-defined, the real culprit here is how the OPT is structured. You’re legally bound to demonstrate every intention of leaving the U.S. while still being lured by the possibility of staying and being a *gasp* productive member of society. And so while OPT students are being encouraged to transition to an H-1B, they’re left with no guarantee of it happening and are out of luck if they can’t find an employer willing to sponsor them, or in J’s case, are working in an occupation allegedly “not relevant” to their field of study.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what could be fixed in our broken immigration system, but it’s safe to say that there are flaws at nearly every level. Deportation is commonly thought of as the punitive consequence for immigrating illegally, hopping fences and whatnot, but it happens to lots and lots of people who have been in the U.S. for years, have been paying taxes, and have made economically-productive contributions to society. J’s story is likely not unique and is a prime example of why we desperately need comprehensive across-the-board immigration reform.

I probably have more thoughts on this, but will leave it at that for now.

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Exploring Chicago’s enclaves: Chinatown

Since my last post a few eons ago, I’ve had the fortune of taking in a lot of Chicago, at least enough to get some sense of the city’s cultural geographies.  What’s most fascinating is considering the added dimensions one doesn’t normally think about.  For example, we can look at a dot map of ethnicity and make conclusions about culture and settlement, but then we might want to consider whether the population is static/permanent vs. transient/dynamic, or how old or how educated residents are, etc. etc.

The Chinatown neighborhood takes a special place in my heart because of my own personal heritage.  I’ve written more about ethnic Chinese enclaves than any other topic on this blog for the simple reason that it helps me understand my own choices of culture and assimilation in contrast to my kin.  But I don’t want that to come at the exclusion of analyzing other very important enclaves.  Chicago’s diverse history is such that we can see strong neighborhood cultures that have been established around the city’s many other immigrant communities.

For now though, I think a studied look into Chicago Chinatown is warranted, given its shorter history than its counterparts in, say, New York or San Francisco, as well as the racial power dynamics that have arisen among between ethnic communities.  It’s also important not to see Chinatown as a fixed bounded unit.  Neighborhoods change over time for a variety of reasons, and it’s important to measure the quality of that change as opposed to simply seeing it as “good” or “bad.”

Here’s a brief outline of how I plan to approach this post series:

  • An introduction and history of Chicago Chinatown
  • Old Chinatown, the historic enclave
  • New Chinatown, development and the future

To be honest, I haven’t the faintest clue when I might finish this series.  I promised the sequel to my H1-B post more than two years ago and I still have yet to deliver (though I never said when!).  On the bright side, a longer wait means more time for me to better the explore the neighborhood in-depth and thus a richer post.

Speaking of H1-B, things are rather quiet on the immigration front, mostly thanks to Congress’ extraordinarily laggard movement on the issue.  While I’ll work on the enclave stuff in the meantime, there are some fascinating legalities in the non-immigrant visa program worth talking about.  Hopefully, this propels me to finish the second H1-B post.

So stay tuned.  I’m finally back.

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The Distribution of Asians in Chicagoland

Where do Asians live in Chicagoland? (click to enlarge)

It’s been little more than two weeks since I moved to the Windy City, and already I’ve noticed significant cultural differences between here and back home in Seattle.  Prior to my move, I was keenly interested in Chicago’s Asian populace– the geography, demographics, socio-economic patterns, etc, etc.  As a big Midwest town, the city doesn’t have the same pan-Asian history that most West Coast metropolises do.  Ethnic migration and settlement patterns are thus different from the ones I commonly talk about on this blog.

There is much much more to come on my qualitative musings about ethnic geography in Chicago.  For now, I want to present my map of the distribution of Asian ethnicities across Chicagoland.  This is a replica of my King County map (sans the data-consuming water geography) so I’ve carried over all the methodology.  Again, credit must be given to Eric Fischer for the inspiration.

Being a rather expansive metropolitan area, it was difficult to decide what the geographic extent of my analysis should be.  I ultimately settled on a four-county area: Will, Cook, DuPage, and Lake.  The colors are as follows: red = Indian, light blue = Chinese, magenta = Filipino, orange = Korean, gold = Japanese, light green = Vietnamese, grey = other.  One dot represents ten persons.

I have some off-the-cuff observations, but being that I’m unfamiliar with the area, I could be totally wrong.  Nonetheless, I do consider myself somewhat of an ethnic geographer so hopefully my remarks aren’t totally off base:

  • The vast majority of Asians living in the north and northwest suburbs are of Indian descent, with one large concentration in Des Plaines and a more dispersed cluster out in Schaumburg.  Indians also live at even lower densities out in west Naperville, close to Aurora.
  • There’s no mistaking the very dense concentration of Chinese emanating out from Chinatown as the Stevenson and Dan Ryan expressways diverge.
  • Filipinos are much more prevalent on the city’s North Side, particularly the Foster corridor near Northeastern Illinois University.
  • Chicago’s “new” Chinatown, is actually an enclave compromised more of Vietnamese and is centered around Argyle in Uptown.  Having been to this district a few times already, I’ll have more to say in the future.
  • Koreans and Japanese are fewer in number and mostly live sparsely to the north and northwest.  There is a notable cluster of Koreans in Niles, where there is ‘coincidentally,’ an H-Mart.
  • There’s a significant dense and diverse concentration of mostly South and Southeast Asians around the West Ridge area, to the west of Edgewater.  I have no clue what’s going on there, but I can certainly promise further investigation in the future.
  • Among the few Midwestern Chinese-Americans I’ve spoken to, Naperville is known as Chicago’s Chinese suburb.  An analysis of the map proves this to be true, though Naperville’s Chinese populace is somewhat dispersed– and more or less reminiscent to an early 2000s Bellevue.
  • Downtown appears to boast the most diverse cluster of Asians, most likely younger ethnic professionals.
  • There are clearly fewer Asians out in the West, Southwest, and South sides (with Chinatown being the exception), areas which all have historically larger African American populations.

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A Few Thoughts on the B777X Contract Approval

Boeing 777X, from Boeing.com

I don’t often blog about aerospace issues, but it being one of my secondary interests, it’s no surprise I have some thoughts on IAM 751’s approval of the 777X labor contract.  This is a politically thorny issue, so there’s some good and bad that will come from this whole process:

  • Firstly, it’s generally a positive sign that 777X work will be secured for the Puget Sound.  The region boasts the most competitive aerospace talent and experience in the world and Boeing can continue to rely on and build off of the infrastructures and supply chains that have supported the company for decades.
  • The real crux of the labor dispute is the phasing out of defined-benefit pension plans.  Let me stress that this is not inconsistent with national trends– as of 2012, only thirty percent of Fortune 100 companies offer traditional pension plans to new salaried hires.  Among aerospace companies, that number is eighty percent.
  • There is consensus that the rift among local machinists (51% voted yes) is largely between younger workers more concerned about job security and older more experienced workers who would have more to lose with the end of pension-plan accruals.  Contrary to some pro-labor commentary I’ve read, I’m skeptical of the argument that the move toward defined-contribution savings plans is an abrogation of workers’ rights.  The new plan comes on top of the existing 401K plans that Boeing will continue to contribute to.  Not very many workers in this country get those kind of retirement benefits.
  • On a completely different note, there’s still plenty of tension as to what will get put in the State transportation package.  Although 777X work is pretty much secured for Puget Sound, Olympia still burns a lot of political capital in satiating Boeing’s needs.  If Boeing holds considerable sway in this matter, then we could see a package heavy on new roads.  This could undercut more sensible efforts to support transit and other non-auto modes.


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Chicago, Here I Come!

united states-01Last week, I concluded my long epic of a job hunting saga with the acceptance of a position in the greater Chicago area. I may feel compelled to write more about the job search itself, but that’s for another day. In the meantime, I’ll talk a bit about what this means for my blogging habits and Lingua Urbana.

First of all, I have no intention of seeing this fine blog die. I credit it with partially helping me establish my long-aspired career as a professional planner in the first place. It also catalogs the “rich” history of my writing evolution and passion. On top of that, it gives me the platform I need when I’m itching to rant about immigration or demography. Who can say no to keeping that going? So, to the best of my ability, I will continue to charge forward with Lingua Urbana.

Now for the challenges. Obviously, moving from one great metropolitan area to another some 2,000 miles away will have a notable impact on LU’s content. Most of my existing blog topics are geographically local– that just makes sense, since I write about what I observe out in the field. After all, what use would it be to write about Bellevue’s ethnoburb dynamics if I wasn’t there to witness it firsthand?

With that in mind, it means that I will likely start writing much more about the great city of Chicago. Some posts will be personal– the trials and travails of acclimating to this unfamiliar Midwestern town. Others will be academic, seeking to unpack the Windy City historically, demographically, politically, etc. There will be a plethora of content either way, since I’ll likely be discovering something new everyday.

There’s much to look forward to as I make the move eastward. Challenges, successes, trials, failures, discoveries, etc. will all be documented. Stay tuned– there’s much more to come. Chicago, here I come.

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