The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams last Thursday night aired a piece by Tom Brokaw about our inability to keep the best and brightest foreign students and guest workers here because of visa restrictions, which are resulting in a reverse brain drain. It focused on the H-1B visa issue, and it provided a great example of why H-1B opponents are so frustrated.
The piece spotlighted entrepreneurs from India who were educated here, and argued that we're letting valuable, job-creating talent slip through our fingers by sending them packing once their H-1B visas expire. The problem is that it only presented one side of the story.
If you're a long-time reader of this blog and you're inclined to jump on that last line and scream that I'm being hypocritical, save your breath and your keystrokes, and pop that vein back into your forehead. News stories and blog posts are different animals. I've made it very clear in this blog that I have a global frame of reference, and that I feel strongly about the promotion of endeavors that unify rather than divide people from different countries. I'm not a huge fan of the H-1B visa program as it currently exists, but to the extent that it helps bring people from different countries and cultures together, I'm all for it. That's where my head is, so my blog is naturally a reflection of that. I've written about the intolerable abuse of the H-1B program and the critical need to end that abuse. But I want a mechanism in place that enables U.S. and foreign IT professionals to work together and to share their experience, expertise and ideas. The H-1B program isn't ideal, but it's better than nothing.
Let me be equally clear that I agree with the thrust of Brokaw's piece. I believe it's in America's best interest to welcome bright, hard-working people from other countries, and to remove barriers that prevent them from living and working here. But I strongly disagree with the biased way in which this news story was presented. For example, Brokaw interviewed Vivek Wadhwa, a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who is a well-known and outspoken supporter of the H-1B program. But no opportunity was given for anyone to express an opposing viewpoint, one that might recount some of the problems with the program and why they need to be fixed. Why didn't Brokaw bother to interview, say, Dr. Norm Matloff, the highly respected professor at the University of California, Davis, who has written and spoken extensively and eloquently in opposition to the H-1B?
This is where it gets complicated. Brokaw and NBC deserve the lion's share of the blame for presenting a one-sided story, but not all of it. Part of the blame falls squarely in the collective lap of the radical, hateful, anti-H-1B fringe element, whose venomous voice blares so loudly that the reasoned voices of people like Matloff are drowned out. The mainstream media can be at least partially forgiven for presuming that since the most vociferous people conveying the anti-H-1B message convey it in a way that casts them as almost embarrassingly ignorant, there must not be an intelligent anti-H-1B argument to be made.
Am I overstating the case? Consider my recent post, "Can the H-1B Issue Be Discussed in a Civil Manner in an Open Forum?" In that post, I presented the key points of an H-1B-related development that had been in the news that week, and I challenged readers to discuss it without denigrating anyone, without making unsubstantiated accusations against anyone, without belittling any culture or nationality, and without using a snide or mean-spirited tone to express their views. Go to the post and scroll down through the reader comments. The combativeness and incivility were punctuated by the requisite hatefulness that we see in virtually every discussion of any H-1B-related matter. It's like clockwork.
These people will continue to succeed in dominating online discussion forums, simply because people with other viewpoints are unwilling to be subjected to the vitriol that's invariably spewed at them if they dare speak their minds or try to inject a call for reasoned debate into the discussion. But it's a hopelessly shortsighted, futile plan of attack. The anti-H-1B argument isn't being taken seriously because way too many of the people making it are so over the top with their hateful slurs, baseless accusations and personal attacks that they simply can't be taken seriously. The cluelessness of it all is as stunning as the hatefulness is self-defeating.