The Emigration of High-Skilled Indian Workers to the United States: Flexible Citizenship and India’s Information Economy (Working Paper #19)

Paula Chakravartty, University of California – San Diego

Summary: This paper does not directly address the role of the Indian government in enabling the practice of “bodyshopping”, precisely because the process is more complex and dynamic than such a causal approach would assume. Instead, I examine the social context within which Indian flexible citizens, often the financiers and brokers of the practice of bodyshopping as well as longer term emigration as well as return emigration, influence domestic economic policy. In other words, I examine the changing symbolic and institutional role of the flexible citizen in relation to the Indian postcolonial state as India enters an era of “free trade” in goods, capital and labor.

Working Paper #19»

Rethinking Migration: High-Skilled Labor Flows from India to the United States (Working Paper #18)

A. Aneesh, Rutgers University

Summary: This paper compares practices of on-line and on-site labor (body shopping) in terms of their similarity or difference. It also identifies certain core aspects of on-line, offshore labor, which is a relatively newer phenomenon with little research expended on it, and clarifies how on-line programming works. Rather than limiting the inquiry to the question “what” is achieved and accomplished through the new labor practice, or what the content of work is, or what competitive advantages corporations gain by hiring on-line labor, I begin by asking the question: “how” does this form of labor work? This question brings out the contours of a new regime of labor practice, which requires new analytical tools to understand transformations in work organization and labor migration. The structure of the paper is as follows. First, I explain how this study seeks to add an important dimension to discuss two separate bodies of literature: globalization and migration, followed by a brief description of research. Lastly, I explain the workings of body shopping and on-line labor.

Working Paper #18»

Cleaning the Buildings of High Tech Companies in Silicon Valley: The Case of Mexican Janitors in Sonix (Working Paper #17)

Christián Zlolniski, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte

Introduction: Silicon Valley is internationally known as the heart of the high-technology industry and a paradigmatic example of the new economy that many other regions in the U.S. and abroad want to emulate. The region also is well-know for the high concentration of foreign-born computer engineers, programmers, scientists and other highly educated technical workers whose labor critically contributes to the vitality and success of the high-tech industry (Alarcon, 1999). Less known is the important concentration of low-skilled Mexican immigrant workers who live in the region and are employed in a large diversity of service occupations directly connected to the maintenance of the high-technology industry complex. An example is the case of Mexican workers employed in the building cleaning industry in the region. Usually working in night shifts, they form an army of “invisible workers” in charge of cleaning the offices, “clean rooms”, and administrative buildings of the numerous high-tech companies that are concentrated in this region. Employed by independent firms and contractors, Mexican and Central American workers become the backbone of the building-cleaning industry in the 1980s, providing a reliable source of hard-working, cheap and flexible labor for the high-tech client corporations that subcontract their services. Little is known however about the labor, working and living conditions of these workers, as if the glamour of Silicon Valley with all its concentration of wealth and economic success would hide the existence of this segment of the region’s working class.

In this paper I seek to examine the case of Mexican immigrants who clean the office buildings of large high-tech corporations employed by independent contractors in the Silicon Valley. The paper is divided in two parts. First, I analyze the structural factors that lead the building-cleaning industry in Silicon Valley to depend on Mexican immigrant workers in the 1980s, and the consequences of this process on the labor and working conditions in this sector. In the second part I illustrate this process with a case-study of Sonix1, a major high-tech corporation in Silicon Valley that, since the mid-1980s, employs Mexican immigrants to clean the numerous building it owns in the region through subcontracted companies. In the paper, I also discuss the unionization of thousands of immigrants who are employed in this industry in the region and the impact of such campaign on the labor and working conditions of these workers.

The paper is based on ethnographic work I conducted with Mexican immigrants employed as janitorial workers in Sonix in Silicon Valley. Most of the information about the experience of these workers was gathered by formal and informal interviews conducted in their homes, as well as observation and interaction with them in public places where they gather to socialize. This information was complemented with interviews with several managers of both Sonix and one of its largest janitorial contractors. Quantitative data about the building-cleaning industry in Silicon Valley comes from census data, surveys from the Employment Development Department in California (EDD), and other secondary sources.

Working Paper #17»

Migrants of the Information Age: Indian and Mexican Engineers and Regional Development in Silicon Valley (Working Paper #16)

Rafael Alarcón, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte

Introduction: Skilled migrants are less restricted than unskilled migrants to participate in U.S. labor markets. Immigration policy, corporate power and their own class resources allow them to cross borders with greater ease than low skilled migrants. This privileged position stems from the fact that these professionals seem to be vital to corporations that are involved in global production processes and markets. Many of the foreign-born engineers and scientists working in the United States are employed in the information technology industry.

There are four main avenues through which highly skilled migrants coming from developing countries find employment in high technology companies. Some of them entered the United States as children of immigrant families. Others were former employees of subsidiaries of U.S. high tech companies located abroad. Another group is composed of former foreign students at U.S universities, and, finally the “Cerebreros” or “high tech Braceros” work in the United States with temporary visas. (Alarcón, 2000). Research consistently show that educational attainment among immigrants is much higher than among native-born engineers and scientists employed in the information technology industry (Alarcón, 1999: Bouvier and Martin, 1995).

In this article, I examine the role that U.S. immigration policy has played in fostering the development of the high technology industry by facilitating the temporary and permanent movement of foreign-born engineers and scientists into the United States. To this end, in the first part of the article, I examine the impact of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990. In the second and third sections, I compare the experiences of migrants from India and Mexico with respect to the formation of “niches“ in the high tech industry. I analyze the combination of US immigration policy and the domestic industrial policies implemented in both countries in regards to the development of the information technology industry.

Working Paper #16»

Silicon Valley’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs (Working Paper #15)

AnnaLee Saxenian, University of California, Santa Cruz

Summary: This study examines the entrepreneurial contribution of highly skilled immigrants–in this case immigrant scientists and engineers–to the Silicon Valley economy. It has four goals. First, it quantifies immigrant engineers’ and entrepreneurs’ presence in and contribution to the Silicon Valley economy. Second, the study examines the extent to which foreign-born engineers are organizing ethnic networks in the region like those found in traditional immigrant enterprises to support the often risky process of starting new technology businesses. Third, it analyzes how these skilled immigrants build long-distance social and economic networks back to their home countries that further enhance entrepreneurial opportunities within Silicon Valley. Finally, it explores the implications of this new model of immigrantled globalization for public policy.

Working Paper #15»

Matching Workers to Work: The Case of Asian Immigrant Engineers in Canada (Working Paper #14)

Monica Boyd, Florida State University

Summary: Asian-born engineers appear to be important components of this foreign born labor. This is suggested by research in the United States which focuses on the experience of Asian engineers, particularly those in California’s “silicon valley” (Alarcon, 1999; Fernandez, 1998; Lim, Waldinger and Borogmehr, 1998; Tang, 1993a, 1993b, 1995). However, research also indicates that the skills of these workers are not always well matched to their jobs, finding evidence for under-employment or blocked mobility. Asian (and Mexican) foreign born engineers in the United States are more likely than their white American born counterparts to be employed in technical work and less likely to move from engineering positions into the management rungs.

Are such findings observed in other post-industrial economies? This paper addresses this question for immigrant Asians with engineering training who are living and working in Canada. After a review of the reasons why Asian engineers may be mismatched in the Canadian labor market, immigrant engineer flows are briefly profiled before raising the three research questions of this paper: 1) do Asian immigrants with foreign training in engineering have the same labor market insertion profiles as do those who are native born; 2) do Asian immigrants with foreign engineering training have the same occupational patterns of employment that are observed for the native born with similar credentials; and 3) does increasing duration in Canada attenuata any observed differences in employment and occupational profiles that exist between the Asian born and other immigrant groups or between the Asian born and the Canadian born? The analysis associated with these questions extends U.S. research in two ways. First, in reviewing the reasons for mis-matches in training and labor market performance, attention is given to a factor not extensively studied by U.S. researchers, namely certification requirements that may exist in highly regulated occupations. Second, by focusing on Canada, the analysis offers a comparative perspective on the utilization of high skilled immigrant labor.

Working Paper #14»

Self-Employment and Earnings among High-Skilled Immigrants in the United States (Working Paper #13)

Magnus Lofstrom, Institute for the Study of Labor, Bonn

Abstract: This paper uses data from the 1980 and 1990 U.S. Censuses to analyze the labor market experience of high-skilled immigrants relative to high-skilled natives. Immigrants are found to be more likely to be working in one of the high-skilled occupations than natives, but the gap between the two groups decreased in the 1980’s. Given the high selfemployment rates of this group of workers, about 20 percent, it is important to study this aspect of the labor market experience. High-skilled natives are more likely to be selfemployed than high-skilled immigrants. Models of the self-employment decision, controlling for differences in socio-economic background, occupation, regional differences in immigrant population proportions, national origin and ethnicity, are estimated. Evidence of positive enclave effects on self-employment probabilities is found. Predicted earnings of self-employed immigrants are higher throughout most of their work life relative to wage/salary immigrants and natives, as well as compared to self-employed natives. Furthermore, there appears to be very little difference in predicted earnings across national origin group of self-employed immigrants. The low variation in predicted earnings across country of origin groups is not found for wage/salary immigrants.

Working Paper #13»

H-1B Temporary Workers: Estimating the Population (Working Paper #12)

B. Lindsay Lowell, Georgetown University

Summary: This paper describes the historical and legislative background of the H-1B visa. It goes on to describe changes in the origins and occupational composition of that population. The major task of the paper is to present demographic estimates and forecasts of the H-1B population, i.e., the size of the workforce that is here in any given year. Integral to those figures are equally important estimates of the population adjusting to permanent status and of that remaining at the end of the visa stay.

Working Paper #12»

The H-1B Visa Debate in Historical Perspective: The Evolution of U.S. Policy Torward Foreign-Born Workers (Working Paper #11)

Margaret L. Usdansky, Princeton University

Thomas J. Espenshade, Princeton University

Summary: In this paper, we trace the history of U.S. legislation regarding employment-based immigration and the admission of foreign-born temporary workers. Because many pieces of legislation address and distinguish between high- and low-skill workers, we examine the evolution of U.S. policy toward both groups. We cover the period from the middle of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century. We conclude that concern about both skilled and unskilled immigration has played a greater role in U.S. federal immigration policy since the 1850s than is commonly recognized.

Working Paper #11»


U.S. Relations with Mexico and Central America, 1977-1999 (Working Paper #10)

Marc Rosenblum, University of California – San Diego

Summary: I investigate four predictions about immigration policy-making in this chapter. First, I expect, in general, that the president and migrant-sending states actively seek to influence U.S. immigration policy. Second, to the extent that presidential and sending states preferences conflict with Congress’s, I expect that the president and sending states will be more influential when immigration is central to bilateral relations and bilateral relations are central to U.S. foreign policy goals (i.e., the foreign policy value of immigration is high), and that Congress will have more influence when the domestic salience of immigration is high. Third, I expect the while Congress may be relatively successful at influencing official immigration policy, the president may make substantively important changes during the enforcement of immigration policy. Finally, specific characteristics of the immigration issue area and/or the type of policy response may also privilege one or another actor.

Working Paper #10»