America, Bad Journalism, immigration, media, Mediocrity, Nonsense, Serious Writing, US Presidential Elections

New H1B Bill: How the Indian Media Provided False Information

Note: This is the second post on this topic. In the first post, I explained what the current H1B law provides for and what exactly the bill proposes to change. Please read that to get a full understanding of the situation. 

The Protect and Grow American Jobs Act that was reintroduced last week by Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA) has received a large amount of attention from the Indian media due to its specific targeting of H1B visa changes. I have discussed in detail what the current law is and what the bill does previously. In this post, I will cover how the Indian media has incorrectly reported this bill.

To summarize the impacts of the bill, the following points should be sufficient:

  1. This bill applies only to H1B Dependent Employer (HDE) companies (those that have more than 15% of their workforce under H1B visas) and Willful Violator (WV) companies. It DOES NOT apply to ALL H1B visa seekers.
  2. The HDE and WV companies, unlike the rest of them, are required to recruit an American worker before applying a H1B visa for a foreign worker. They also cannot fire an American worker within 90 days before and 90 days after an H1B foreign worker is hired. They also cannot post the H1B worker at a different employer’s office. This is done to reduce visa abuse, to offer basic protection to American workers, and to ensure that only the best workers are hired under H1B.
  3. Under the current law, the additional requirements for HDE and WV companies, as shown in #2, can be easily bypassed in either of two ways. One is by hiring a foreign worker who has a Master’s degree in the area of the job. Second is by offering the foreign worker a minimum pay of $60,000 per annum. These two ‘exemptions’ allow the HDE and WV companies to bypass the additional requirements, thus making it very easy for them to abuse the visa system. (See the Disney H1B lawsuit for example).
  4. The new bill aims to change two things in the criteria that allows the HDE and WV companies to bypass the additional requirements (in #2). One, it aims to increase the minimum pay to $100,000 per annum. Second, it removes the Master’s degree exemption – meaning you cannot bypass the additional requirements just because the H1B worker the company plans to hire has a Master’s degree. This aims to close the loophole that allows visa abuses to take place.

So that was a summary of what is happening here. Now let us look at how the Indian media is reporting this news.

I will start with the most egregious falsification: The Hindu. The Hindu news article lists 6 separate items that it says the Bill aims to do. Only one of these is even partly correct. The rest are just outrageous falsifications. Let us look at them:

  • The Bill prohibits companies from hiring H1-B employees if they employ more than 50 people and more than 50 per cent of their employees are H1-B and L-1 visa holders. ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. There is no such language in the bill at all. Even the HDE company definition is incorrect going by this rule.
  • The Bill encourages companies to recruit American workers. This provision would crack down on outsourcing companies that import large numbers of H-1B and L-1 workers for short training periods and then send these workers back to their home country to do the work of Americans, the Senators who introduced the Bill had said. This is a very generic statement offering no specific information on how the bill aims to do this. As a general intent of the bill, it is correct. But there is no language listing this explicitly. 
  • It explicitly prohibits replacement of American workers by H1-B or L-1 visa holders. ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. The general intent to not replace American workers is indeed contained in the bill, as it is in the current law. But there is no ‘explicit’ language in the bill that talks about prohibiting replacement of American workers. 
  • The Bill seeks to give the Department of Labour enhanced authority to review, investigate and audit employer compliance as well as to penalise fraudulent or abusive conduct. ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. Again, this is a very generic statement offering no information. More importantly, the bill text itself does not include any language in this regard. 
  • The Bill seeks to increase the minimum salary of H1-B visa holders to $1,00,000 per annum. INCORRECT AND MISLEADING. As discussed in the summary above, the minimum salary only applies to the H1B workers under the HDE companies seeking to bypass the additional requirements. This DOES NOT APPLY to all H1B visa holders, as this statement suggests.
  • Currently, firms need not go through extensive paperwork if the potential H1-B employee has an equivalent of a Master’s degree or higher and he or she is paid at least $60,000 annually. The Bill aims to do away with the Master’s degree exemption (as “they are easily obtained by foreign workers”). PARTLY CORRECT. This is the only bullet point that has even a shred of correct information in it. As seen from the summary, what The Hindu lists as ‘extensive paperwork’ are essentially additional requirements that (only) the HDE and WV companies have to adhere to in order to ensure there is no visa abuse. Additionally, this statement mentions the Master’s degree exemption, but does not state what the exemption is for!

There is absolutely no excuse or justification for publishing such large amounts of wrong information on a leading national daily website (and presumably their newspaper as well). I am currently preparing an email to the Editor of The Hindu pointing out this outrageous misinformation. I do not expect a response, however.

The next biggest blunder I saw was from Zee News. Their article listed 3 separate items as part of the bill and its impacts. Here they are:

  • To get H1B visa approved, you will have to fit in the salary bracket of $100,000 a year, up from $60,000 currently. ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. This only applies for HDE companies looking to bypass additional requirements.
  • One will need to have a Master’s degree, as recognized by the US. ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT!! Removing the Master’s degree exemption language is foolishly misinterpreted as a Master’s degree ‘requirement’! 
  • It is estimated that any change on visa law will largely impact companies who have more than 50 employees based in the US. INCORRECT. The HDE companies are those that have 15% or more of their workforce under H1B visas. Companies even under 50 employees have the HDE categorization. 

It should be noted that the Master’s degree ‘requirement’ mentioned above is actually being listed in many newspapers and websites. This is completely incorrect. There is no such requirement at all! Do not confuse the removal of the Master’s degree exemption to the ‘requirement’ of a Master’s degree!

\[UPDATE March 29th 2017]\

One of the journalistic sources that I have been personally reading for the past 3 years and would strongly recommend is The Caravan Magazine. Its writing primarily includes long form journalism and has generally provided very high quality articles – albeit with a left-leaning perspective. However, I was particularly disappointed with the way the magazine had covered this H1B bill’s developments in this February’s edition. This error becomes even more egregious considering the writer is a Professor of Political Science at Indiana University and is an author of multiple books. It is difficult to comprehend how something as simple as this escapes folks who are expected to be well informed.  Here is what it states and how it is incorrect:

  • ….the bill proposes to raise the minimum salary of H1-B professionals from $60k to $100k, making it costlier for employers to hire foreign workers. INCORRECT AND MISLEADING. As discussed in the summary above, the minimum salary only applies to the H1B workers under the HDE companies seeking to bypass the additional requirements. This DOES NOT APPLY to all H1B visa holders, as this statement suggests.
  • It also promises to end a provision that allows as many as 20,000 foreign nationals in excess of the annual H1-B quota to avail of the visa if they hold a Master’s degree. This is the part which particularly disappointed me. The Master’s degree exemption that is discussed in the bill is essentially the loophole through which HDE companies can bypass a lot of additional requirements. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with the existing quota of 20,000 H1B visas being issued to people with Master’s degrees from US Universities. These are two separate and independent things. Even just the most cursory reading of the bill will make it clear.

I have written to The Caravan requesting them to issue a retraction on their upcoming issue. (There was none issued in the March edition). I am hopeful that they will.

\[UPDATE March 29th 2017]\

\UPDATE May 30th 2017\

The Caravan responded to my email and have issued a correction in their online and print article to reflect the correct information.

\[UPDATE May 30th 2017]]

Let’s move on to other big publications. Websites of Times of India, The Indian Express, Live Mint, and Economic Times all include more or less the same statement regarding this bill:

The bill among other things increase the minimum salary of H-1B visa to $100,000 per annum and eliminate the Masters Degree exemption.

And as we have seen, this is only partly correct and also does not include any information on what the actual exemption is. Additionally, the Economic Times ran a slightly different spin on this statement. This is what it said:

The new bill would require workers on the H-1B visa pay a minimum of $100,000, up from $60,000 currently. The bill also removes the Master’s degree exemption to the cap on the number of visas available.

The second line is what is total garbage. There is no impact to the ‘cap on number of visas available’ as this report states. The Master’s degree exemption is completely unrelated to the H1B visa cap of 85,000 per year. Completely false information!

I do not have access to all the local newspapers which may be carrying different incorrect versions of this information. But I do suspect most of these versions were covered by the big newspapers (not a compliment!). I do not know exactly what was discussed in all the ‘panel discussions’ on news channels, so I cannot comment on that. However, I do not expect it to be any different than what I have seen on the websites. I was also appalled at people in high positions in various big name companies provide quotes on this matter without knowing anything about it in the first place.

What did concern me though was that this false information was said to have caused a fall in the share price of these big IT companies. This should not happen. The media loves to profit from sensationalizing new developments. But in the process, it should also be made aware of its responsibilities to report correct news. This is not something that should even be pointed out. It should form the basic bedrock of their whole operation. But the fact that a regular guy like me can dig up the correct information within an hour – all on the internet – while paid journalists do not bother to do so, and in fact report falsified information, is a definite cause for concern.

The Oxford Dictionary listed ‘post-truth’ to be the word of the year 2016. Its definition is: Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. We always counted on the news media to show us what is actual truth and what is not – to separate the facts from the claims. But not any more. It now appears that as citizens of the world, we now need to verify what the media is reporting (or not reporting) prior to believing them. It is indeed a scary realization of today’s world – that the media is, in fact, part of the ‘post-truth world’.

I am sure that makes a sensational news story.

Arbit, Bangalore, Pink Floyd, Serious Writing

How NOT to pay a tribute to Michael Jackson

This post is my tribute to Michael Jackson and in this, I shall describe in full detail exactly how NOT to pay a tribute. This post is essentially a response to an editorial piece that appeared in The New Indian Express the day after MJ’s death which can be found here. The piece was written by the Editor-in-chief Mr. Aditya Sinha himself and is titled “POP GOES THE KING.” I would suggest the reader to first read the editorial piece and then read my response to that.

First, let us set the context right. This editorial appears the day after the entire world is shocked to learn about MJ’s death. I for one, having been a long time admirer of his works, was particularly disappointed. The entire world flooded the internet with messages paying tribute to the king of pop. Practically every news channel was running the same story. Now this being the case, I open the editorial the next day and I found an article titled “Pop goes the King” which essentially described why One person (Mr. Sinha) considered Michael Jackson as someone “who lacked dignity at his core.”

The article can very easily be classified as the point of view of one single individual as most of the comments that he has made inevitably involve “I never really liked…”, “My objection to…”, “I could not understand…”, “I was ready to believe….”, “I almost feel sorry for….” etc.  In fact the article itself begins with “I never really liked Michael Jackson…”. The article thus begins with such a self-centered approach and the same tone is carried on throughout without giving the slightest explanation as to why the writer’s personal preference and opinion should necessarily constitute the real image of the person in question. There is absolutely no basis provided for any of the conclusions that are drawn apart from the writer’s own preferences and very clearly biased points of view. Let me elaborate with some quotes.

In the very beginning, Mr. Sinha statesMy objection to Michael Jackson’s songs was that they were too stupid for me and appealed to the lowest common denominator.” Apart from the very obvious reference to HIS OWN tastes, it should be noted that he terms that MJ’s songs were “too stupid”  for him. Not caring to elaborate on what exactly constituted the “stupid” part in all of the celebrated Michael Jackson catalog, he goes on to state that the songs appealed to the “Lowest common Denominator.” And in the next sentence he goes on to state who or what he considered as the Lowest Common Denominator. He says After all, which college intellectual wants to share his musical tastes with grandmothers and 13-year-old girls?” Now apart from the very obvious point that so many high profile people in various capacities around the world are big fans of MJ, I am curious about one thing. If it can be considered that, say, Pink Floyd songs are not stupid (if you disagree, kindly leave this blog), and assuming that Mr. Sinha likes Pink Floyd (or if it is Kishore Kumar, feel free to substitute), then on what basis can he say that there is no 13 year old girl or grandmothers who listen to them? Because, as he himself has put it, he wouldn’t want to share his musical taste with them. I sense a generous dose of hypocrisy in here. He goes on to rationalize his way of thinking by quoting what Socrates might have said “If something was popular then it probably wasn’t good.” At this point, I would like to state that one has to understand that there is a difference between something being “popular” and something being “contemporary”. Michael Jackson was (and will always remain) popular, but he was in no way contemporary.

Other aspects dealt with in the article include his plastic surgery from black to white. And in response to this, Mr. Sinha starts “Perhaps he felt shame in being black…” Again, without making any effort in providing any information/incident that might form the basis for this personal opinion, a statement suggesting Jackson suffering from shame about his color is made. His new appearance is then broken apart and criticised for each part in the following lines and is compared to The Joker from Batman comics. But the real striking remark is made in the next line when he says : “It is arguable whether he looked HUMAN.” Criticising a person’s look is one thing. Calling for a debate whether he looked human or not is something totally different. I am not even going to respond to this horrifying and baseless personal opinion. But alas, the criticisms don’t stop there. Further personal opinion is doled out with his change in looks being termed “..a pathological attempt at self-improvement” and he then contrasts Jackson’s “self disgust” (again, this is the writer’s own inference) to America electing an African American for President. He then suddenly, out of nowhere and having offered no reason, states that “Michael Jackson really had lost touch with reality.”

And while dealing with MJ’s child molestation case, Mr. Sinha says, “.. by the time that news of Michael Jackson’s troubles with little boys came, I was ready to believe the worst about him.” Somehow I am not surprised at all. But what really put me off, was the suggestion that MJ got acquitted just because “nothing could be proved against him” and the comparison of MJ’s trial to that of the infamous OJ Simpson case when it is written ..or perhaps, like O J Simpson (who killed his wife and her lover but was acquitted), he had a sympathetic jury.” This particular paragraph, I have to say, contains as much suggestion and speculation as it lacks solid facts. He further makes an inference, again based solely on what it all meant personally to him, as to how MJ could have possibly committed the crimes by stating : the fact that he tried to change his skin colour meant to me that he lacked dignity at his core, and if he lacked that, then anything was possible.”

The main reason why I sat down to take the pains to write this long post was not just because I have always been a die-hard MJ fan. But it is mainly because of the way in which a complete editorial was dedicated to air the opinion of one man about how his preferences and opinions went against popular belief. I do understand that Mr. Sinha is a highly qualified individual who holds an extremely high post in the Indian print media. I also recognize his right to personal opinion, and being in that high position, I also recognize his authority to write an editorial to his liking. My objections to this editorial are not as much about the content of the article, as it is about it’s timing. There is always a place and time to air certain views about certain people. And writing an article such as this when the whole world is mourning the death of a star who defined a generation is definitely incongruous and wrongly timed. If anything, it is only demeaning to all the millions of fans around the world.

I now wonder. The author of the article has made comments terming Michael Jackson as a person who “lacked dignity” offering no basis whatsoever apart from his own personal opinion. And this statement is made the very next day  after Michael Jackson passed away, in the editorial of a leading national daily in India. Something doesn’t seem right. Something seems out of place. Come to think of it, I now wonder as to who it is exactly that “lacks dignity”.