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Did Gates fib about H-1B business?

By Paul McNamara on Thu, 02/08/07 - 11:29am.

Did Bill Gates tell a big fat fib regarding what Microsoft pays the holders of H-1B visas while in Washington last year lobbying lawmakers and cajoling journalists for looser immigration policies?

(Update: Microsoft responds.)

And did David Broder, the prominent Washington political columnist, pass that fib along to his readers without so much as a raised eyebrow?

Both would appear to be the case, at least based on an analysis provided by offshoring critic Robert Oak and posted yesterday to a pair of popular political blogs, MyDD (Direct Democracy) and DailyKos.

Broder reported that Gates told him H1-B hires start at about $100,000 a year. The key paragraph:

As Gates said, these are highly paid, highly qualified individuals. Salaries for these jobs at Microsoft start at about $100,000 a year. Their counterparts can be hired more cheaply in China or India, he said, but Microsoft does 85 percent of its research and development work in the United States because it wants its computer scientists interacting directly with its program managers and its marketing people on its own campus.

And here's the meat of what Oak provided, based on an analysis of green-card applications:

Unfortunately for Bill Gates, when a corporation sponsors a green card, they must publish the actual salary along with the application.

From the graph above and the table below, only 3.3%, or 40 employees, of the 1,202 total green card applications submitted by Microsoft had wages above $100k.

In fact, more applications, 8.3%, or 92 employees, were paid salaries below $60k. Most of the jobs titles of the 1,202 applications were Software Engineer, an entry level job indicator.

The median salary for all was $71k, well below the $100k that Bill Gates touted in his claim of a great shortage of "talent" in America (read cheap, controllable and young).

I am generally sympathetic toward backers of looser immigration policies, in general, and H-1B limits, specifically. However, central to the latter position has long been the often-repeated contention that H-1B visas go primarily to highly specialized, highly compensated professionals who are otherwise difficult if not impossible to find here in the states.If that's not the case, then the argument in favor of lifting H1-B ceilings weakens considerably.Maybe there's an explanation that Oak didn't provide and isn't apparent in the numbers. One gap in the analysis is the absence of any source reference for the data. I've sent Oak an e-mail asking for that information.

(Update: In an e-mail, Oak responds: "The diary yesterday, is really to the credit of Dr. Ron Hira's statistical analysis via Excel. The source of the data is Microsoft green card, or permanent resident applications themselves, submitted to the USCIS.")

There are also questions being raised about whether Oak is mixing apples and oranges by applying green-card data to the H1-B salary discussion, which one poster to DailyKos addressed this way:

If you are wondering whether comparing green-card data to H-1B data is valid, the answer is yes. In fact most employment-based green-card applications are for workers already here on H-1B work permits. So, the salary data for green-card holders actually overstates what they are likely paying H-1B holders, since the green-card applications are for workers who have been with a company for a couple of years.

(Update: In this subsequent post, Norm Matloff, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis, says there's no apples/oranges issue here.)

I've also contacted Broder and Microsoft (sorry, I've misplaced Bill's direct number) for their reactions.

Updates to follow as warranted (Microsoft's PR firm tells me it's seeking a reply).

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