Once upon a time long ago, Matt Smith wrote for me when we both were at SF Weekly. He’s always been good, but I think the passage of time and changes in how journalism is delivered have made him a near-perfect local writer for our times. Matt’s a columnist for the print Weekly and a blogger and occasional full-length feature writer betweentimes; this mixing of daily and weekly and multi-weekly deadlines and newspaper and magazine sensibilities seems a fine match for this phase of the digital age. But it’s not just that Matt can write across platforms; he can think across platforms to create the right piece at the right length with the right tone for the right publication at the right time. This piece, on H1-B visas in the Bay Area, bears the one true hallmark of the Matt Smith approach: a nuanced take that you truly did not see coming and that, depending on who you are, could be so absolutely outraging as to set you muttering for days, maybe weeks. Here’s an outtake:
Bay Area CEOs say imported experts are key to Silicon Valley success. In the program, foreign workers are employed by the sponsoring company for up to six years. During that time, the H1-B holders may start the long process of applying for permanent-resident green cards.
Critics say the program is a mild form of indentured servitude. They insist that what employers really seek are compliant workers who won’t complain about unfair treatment for fear of being deported.
The fact is both groups are right: The H1-B program depresses wages for certain U.S. workers. It’s rife with fraud and abuse. H1-B workers are vulnerable to discrimination, isolation, and exploitation. But the program is a necessary evil because skilled and enterprising new immigrants are exactly what the Bay Area economy needs.