Businessweek article on Norm Matloff
Businessweek article on Norm Matloff
Date: Thursday, July 02, 2009 4:29 AM
<<<<< JOB DESTRUCTION NEWSLETTER No. 2034 -- 7/02/2009 >>>>>
When I heard that Moira Herbst of Businessweek wrote an article about Norm
Matloff, I read it with extreme trepidation. Herbst is a skilled writer and
journalist, but she is very much a corporate globalist who supports H-1B and
outsourcing. Despite her obvious bias the article wasn't as bad as I
There are a few things in the article that I felt should be commented on.
To some opponents of H-1B visas, Matloff is something of a hero --
and in a sense, the intellectual backbone of their movement.
That may be the most profound thing Herbst has ever written (which probably
isn't saying very much!). As far as I know, Norm Matloff is the first one to
make the connection between H-1B and age discrimination. I first found out
about Matloff many years ago when I was trying to figure out why I couldn't
find good engineering jobs. For many reasons I began to suspect my
40+ age was a factor (in one interview the manager asked me if I would
a problem riding go-karts with "the boys" on Friday). I stumbled into
Matloff's "Debunking" paper and much to my astonishment it read like my
autobiography. The stories in that paper have been accused of being anecdotal,
but they are the story of my ruined career. They aren't anecdotal to me!
My journey into the H-1B issue originated from the wealth of information that
Matloff provided on age discrimination in the computer/IT professions.
I'm not sure why Herbst used so many quotes from Vivek Wadhwa, an Indian
supremacist who writes articles mostly for the same magazine. Surely she could
have found someone outside of Businessweek to take cheap shots at Matloff!
Arthur Hu was briefly mentioned but his credibility is damaged by the fact
that he is a Chinese racist who has an obsession with hating Matloff.
Vivek Wadhwa didn't stop his attacks there however -- he complained
that Matloff's "research doesn't seem to have been published by
credible authorities or have received any form of peer review."
That's a very disingenerous thing for Wadhwa to say considering
Matloff's 99 page report "On the Need for Reform of the H-1B
Nonimmigrant Work Visa in Computer-Related Occupations" was
published by the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform.
Wadhwa's assertion that the data Matloff uses has "no basis" is a vindictive
attack that might have been exacerbated every time Matloff effectively
debunked the corporate sponsored studies published by Wadhwa and his
politically correct cronies at Harvard and Duke Universities.
Matloff has poked so many holes in Wadhwa's studies it's amusing stuff to
Most of the studies I have seen from Wadhwa contain data that is tailored to
coincide with predetermined conclusions, and they somehow always seem to
"prove" that we need to allow more Indians into the U.S. to take our jobs.
To Matloff's credit he sees right through these scurrilous studies that parade
as objective academia. Wadhwa has very little room to criticize Matloff for
using faulty data.
As for peer review: Before Matloff subjected that Michigan paper to a formal
peer review he invited comment from a wide variety of people in and out of
academia. I doubt Wadhwa was on Matloff's review list, which makes me suspect
that Wadwha's remarks are caused by a case of extreme narcissism. I know that
Matloff had the paper reviewed by outsiders because I was one of many that
Matloff deserves praise for inviting a wide variety of activists both inside
and out of academia to review his material. Vivek Wadhwa in contrast prefers
to keep his research data within a small clique of Ivory Tower professors and
I can personally vouch for the fact that Matloff not only listened to many of
us, he incorporated changes into his study when he determined that our
critiques had merit. Wadhwa had this to say about Matloff:
Matloff routinely attacks the work of other academics by citing
statistics and data which have no basis," says Vivek Wadhwa,
a Duke University engineering professor and fellow with the
Labor & Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. (Wadhwa is also
a columnist for BusinessWeek.com.) "He claims to have performed
his own research, but this research doesn't seem to have been
published by credible authorities or have received any form of
OK, I'm not an ivory tower academic, so I decided to ask Norm Matloff the
following questions, and I got the following answers which he gave me
permission to quote:
<<<<< Start of Q&A >>>>>
QUESTION BY ROB: Norm, has Vivek Wadhwa ever invited you to peer review
anything of his? Have you asked him to do the same?
ANSWER BY NORM: This is not how it works. Instead, one submits a manuscript to
a journal, and the associate editor chooses some reviewers. The reviewers,
whose names are typically not divulged to the author(s) of the manuscript,
critique the paper and recommend acceptance or rejectance.
Ironically, I criticized Vivek for not having peer-reviewed work. I pointed
out serious errors in his papers, and said that peer review would have caught
them. Since he now is accusing me of not having peer-reviewed work (he is
incorrect on that, but that's not my point here), I assume that means that he
finally has submitted something to an academic journal.
On a related matter, recall that I said in my e-newsletter the other day that
almost all my analyses are an open book, based on public data such as PUMS,
PERM, NCSG and so on. Anyone can verify my results. By contrast, Vivek's data
is all private. I have asked him to share it with me, and he has declined my
QUESTION BY ROB: So, one more question -- was your Michigan Reform study peer
reviewed, and if not, why?
ANSWER BY NORM: Yes, I said so in my critique of the BusinessWeek article.
By the way, the archived copy of my critique (with a couple of typos
corrected) is at:
<<<<< End of Q&A >>>>>
There are a few other things in the article that are cause for concern -- of
course we should keep in mind that the quotes might not be accurate or they
are taken out of context (Herbst does that sometimes). I have great respect
for Lindsay Lowell, director of policy studies at Georgetown University's
Institute for the Study of International Migration, but he was quoted as
saying something that makes me scratch my head in bewilderment:
Matloff lacks definitive data on, for example, the proportion of
older workers who are laid off and replaced by younger workers
or H-1B visa holders.
Lindsay Lowell is a researcher and a darn good one, and as such he will never
have enough data (do a google search to find his excellent studies on the many
facets of immigration including H-1B). Gathering and analyzing data is what he
does. Matloff and many other researchers have been gathering facts about H-1B
for a very long time. Matloff has adequately proved the connection between H-
1B and age discrimination but I have no doubt that academics like Lowell could
study statistics for another 10 years before they came to a definitive
conclusion. In the meantime our entire computer/IT industry is being given
away to YOUNG foreign nationals.
By now all of you have read something by ITGrunt. Allow me to come out of the
closet and admit that sometimes I go to his website. I find his material
entertaining and yet provocative. Sometimes he even reminds me of myself in
the early days of my rage against the machine. Some people have speculated
that ITgrunt is just a ghost name that I use. I assure all of you that I am
not the ITgrunt, so let's put an end to that bit of internet mythology.
ITgrunt's stories from the work world seem to have a kenel of truth to them,
but sometimes his specifics on H-1B are weak on the facts. I was rather
stunned that Businessweek asked his opinion on Matloff:
"While I do admire Matloff and find his work to be substantial, his
contribution to our cause has been academic and largely ignored by
the I.T. industry," says "Kevin," who publishes a blog that
routinely refers to Indian tech workers as "slumdogs" (itgrunt.com).
Kevin, or ITgrunt, or whomever your name is: I got news for you -- the IT
industry and everyone else who employs H-1Bs routinely ignores Matloff and
anyone else that criticizes H-1B -- that includes you and I. The
corporatocrats and their toadies in government will continue to marginalize us
until we either vote the traitors out of office or pay them off. Forget the
latter option because the cheap labor lobby will always outbid us, and they
control the bully pulpit of the mainstream media so they also control public
Donna Conroy was quoted, but I have no idea what she is talking about here:
"The thing that's missing in Norm Matloff's strategy is fighting for
a seat at the table," says Donna Conroy, executive director of
Bright Future Jobs.
I'm not sure what seat at the table Donna is talking about, but she is right
about fighting -- we need a lot more of that and a lot less apathy and
cowardice. Conroy's next statement is excellent except for one thing:
"We need a political movement that allows us to help craft
legislation. All the numbers [Matloff] crunches won't have
nearly the impact as American technical professionals
standing up for themselves."
I just don't agree with the characterization of Matloff as being merely a
number cruncher. In addition to his heroic efforts to educate clueless
Americans about H-1B he has testified before Congress and has been on
innumerable panels, discussions, news shows, radio talk shows, etc. At times
all of us out there have wished Matloff would do more, but realistically just
how much is a working university professor expected to do? Techies need to
learn to fight their own battles if they expect to get their jobs back.
Conroy is totally right-on about the need for techies to do something for
themselves. Until they organize and do something politically, the best result
we can expect is for more academic studies to be authored that will explain or
deny the obvious harms that H-1B has wrought on the U.S. work force -- and the
debate will go on and on.
MUST READ STUDIES:
"On the Need for Reform of the H-1B Nonimmigrant Work Visa in Computer-Related
Occupations", by Norm Matloff, University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform,
Fall 2003 http://heather.cs.ucdavis.edu/MichJLawReform.pdf
"Debunking the Myth of a Desperate Software Labor Shortage", Testimony to the
U.S. House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Dr. Norman
Matloff, Presented April 21, 1998
"H-1B Temporary Workers: Estimating the Population", By B. Lindsay Lowell,
America's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Part I, by Vivek Wadhwa and others,
January 4, 2007
Immigration June 28, 2009, 8:25PM EST text size: TT An Academic's Labor Helps
Fight H-1B Visas Norm Matloff, a computer science professor with a Chinese-
born wife, says the U.S. skilled-immigrant visa system exploits workers
By Moira Herbst
Not many computer science professors are activists on immigration policy.
But Norm Matloff of the University of California, Davis wears both hats. He
has been a vocal critic of the H-1B visa program for skilled immigrants since
the mid-1990s, and now maintains a Web page and e-mail listserv discussing
offshoring and the H-1B visa program, which he calls a "sham."
He says his motivation is to protect and preserve tech job opportunities for
the students he teaches.
"I have no personal stake in any of this," says Matloff, who is 60. "If the H-
1B program were disbanded tomorrow, my personal well-being would not improve
one iota. [But] when I see something that is not right and about which I know
something, I tend to speak out. On this issue, I know where the bodies are
The H-1B visa program inspires heated debate, especially online. The program
is controversial for a number of reasons. Some critics say the program allows
U.S. companies to import cheaper labor, dampening wages and displacing U.S.
workers. Others say it facilitates outsourcing, as it allows Indian-born tech
workers to train in the U.S. and then return home and perform the work there.
Still others point to mounting evidence of fraud in the program and a lack of
"De Facto Indentured Servants"
Matloff stresses that the problem is not fraud or crime but the H-1B visa law
itself. He says that the law as currently written allows H-1B visa holders to
receive below-market wages. The policy also allows for age discrimination as
older U.S. tech workers are displaced by a younger workforce from abroad.
"Though the industry lobbyists portray it as a remedy for labor shortages and
as a means of hiring 'the best and the brightest' from around the world, the
visa is used to access workers that cost less and are de facto indentured
servants," Matloff writes on his blog.
Matloff has written extensively about the effects of globalization and
offshoring on U.S. IT workers and has been quoted on the issue in most major
media outlets. He has also testified before Congress as an expert on the work
visa law. Some of his most influential academic work includes a fall 2003
article in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform on the H-1B work
visa called "On the Need for Reform of the H-1B Nonimmigrant Work Visa in
Computer-Related Occupations." A 2006 article that linked H-1B visas to age
discrimination in the computer industry was published by the California Labor
& Employment Law Review.
As are most advocates on immigration issues, Matloff is a controversial
figure. He's admired by supporters -- including activists on H-1B visa issues
-- but criticized by other academics who don't share his views and who chafe
at his often-abrasive rhetorical style. Critics also suggest there could be a
xenophobic undertone implicit in his critique of the H-1B visa program.
Matloff posts opinionated blog entries on the Web site of Numbers USA, a group
calling for lower levels of immigration. His writing prompted one tech worker,
Arthur Hu of Bothell, Wash., to create a Web page criticizing Matloff, whom he
calls the "Hatchet Man of Asian Immigration."
Matloff: Job Loss Is the Only Issue
Matloff firmly denies that he is prejudiced. He says that to the contrary, he
is active in the Chinese community and has served as an expert witness in
litigation on age and racial discrimination in the software industry. He
points out that he is the son of an immigrant who grew up in a working-class,
ethnically mixed part of Los Angeles. His wife was born in China and he speaks
both Cantonese and Mandarin with her and their daughter at home. "I hope that
absolves me of all suspicion," he says.
Matloff also disputes the idea that those who oppose the H-1B visa program are
xenophobic. "To make the claim that somehow the [anti-H-1B visa] movement is
motivated by race is flat-out wrong," says Matloff. "People can get really
emotional in listservs, some of them to the point of getting paranoid. But
even then I don't see racial or xenophobic language [emerge], except on
occasion." He adds that the issue is about the loss of jobs and not ethnicity.
"The implication [of the racial argument] would be that an activist wouldn't
mind if some Canadian or someone of European ancestry took his or her job," he
says. "If you lose your job, you lose your job."
Matloff has influence on the H-1B visa debate beyond his Web page and e-mail
newsletter. He has worked with Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) on a bill
introduced in April that would add restrictions to the H-1B visa program.
Drawing Criticism from Both Sides
To some opponents of H-1B visas, Matloff is something of a hero -- and in a
sense, the intellectual backbone of their movement. "Matloff was the first
person to raise attention to this issue and provide a detailed analysis of the
impact of the H-1B visa program," says John Miano, founder of U.S. tech
advocacy group the Programmers Guild and a labor attorney in Summit, N.J.
"I and others knew what was going on anecdotally, but he got the data together
to shine the light on the big picture. He provides most of the leadership from
an academic point of view."
Others seem less enamored. "While I do admire Matloff and find his work to be
substantial, his contribution to our cause has been academic and largely
ignored by the I.T. industry," says "Kevin," who publishes a blog that
routinely refers to Indian tech workers as "slumdogs" (itgrunt.com). "THAT IS
ONE ARTICULATE [expletive]", wrote Kevin in a post in April referring to
Matloff. (Matloff distances himself from "Kevin" and his Web site and says his
views are "unrepresentative.")
Matloff has his share of supporters and critics in the academic world, too.
"Matloff routinely attacks the work of other academics by citing statistics
and data which have no basis," says Vivek Wadhwa, a Duke University
engineering professor and fellow with the Labor & Worklife Program at Harvard
Law School. (Wadhwa is also a columnist for BusinessWeek.com.) "He claims to
have performed his own research, but this research doesn't seem to have been
published by credible authorities or have received any form of peer review."
Policymaking vs. Research
But other academics say they respect his work. "Matloff understands the guts
of the issue in a way many academics don't," says B. Lindsay Lowell, director
of policy studies at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of
International Migration. "He brings a lot of passion to the subject, which has
its upsides and downsides. At times it can detract from his message." Lowell
adds that "as a professor, I believe he may take the career options of his
students seriously and believes, to some extent, that an oversupply of highly
skilled immigrants -- H-1Bs in particular -- is not in the interest of the
domestic supply line." But Lowell says that like many researchers in this
area, Matloff lacks definitive data on, for example, the proportion of older
workers who are laid off and replaced by younger workers or H-1B visa holders.
Anti-H-1B activists say they're worried less about academic research and more
about shaping policy. "The thing that's missing in Norm Matloff's strategy is
fighting for a seat at the table," says Donna Conroy, executive director of
Bright Future Jobs, a lobbying group that advocates restricting the H-1B visa
program. "We need a political movement that allows us to help craft
legislation. All the numbers [Matloff] crunches won't have nearly the impact
as American technical professionals standing up for themselves."
Still, Matloff says he's ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work on H-1B
visa reform: "If and when Congress wants to clean up this mess, I can tell
them how to do it."
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