For novel ideas about building embedded systems (both hardware and firmware), join the 40,000+ engineers who subscribe to The Embedded Muse, a free biweekly newsletter. The Muse has no hype and no vendor PR. Click here to subscribe.

Highly-Skilled H1-B Fashion Models

Summary: It's time we greatly increased H1-B visas, at least for certain jobs.

I rarely address the subject of H1-B visas as passions run high. Some argue we need more engineers and the H1-B program is the fastest way to bring talent here. The IEEE and ACM seem to agree (at least by their actions) that there is a shortage; they have been running major outreach programs targeted at getting more youngsters into this field.

Others feel companies manipulate the visas to cut costs. They argue that engineering salaries have been somewhat stagnant, and the laws of supply and demand would drive wages up if there's a real shortage. And it's a certainty that companies are required to maximize shareholder value, in part by keeping payroll costs down. At least within the rule of law, and no one doubts that every company scrupulously obeys each and every provision of the legal code.

A third line of reasoning bemoans what appears to be an increasingly feudal employment system. Walmart employees are paid so little they can only shop at Walmart. Even staunchly-pro-capitalism publications like The American Conservative have recently argued for a minimum wage hike to break this cycle. US engineers make a lot more than either the current or any proposed minimum wage, but some feel the depressed H1-B salaries creates a downward pressure on all of our incomes.

But there's a great reason to argue for more H1-Bs. At least for sexist pigs.

According to the visa program also brings in a certain number of desperately-needed fashion models. You may not have realized we're facing a critical shortage of models, but it appears wise members of Congress have studied this problem in great detail, responding with a Huge Federal Program to ensure the nation continues to be competitive on the runways of the world. In a surprising interview(1) General Buck Turgidson reported both China and Russia have "at least" four fashion models, and two supermodels, for each one here in the United States.

One wonders how many closed-door sessions were required to investigate the Model Gap.

The Brookings Institute reports ( "First, employers apply for H-1B visas for high-skilled workers for specialty occupations. These occupations are defined as requiring theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and the attainment of a bachelor's degree or higher in the field of specialty. The one occupational exception to the H-1B bachelor's requirement is, not surprisingly, fashion models, who make up less than 1 percent of all H-1B requests."

I had no idea that fashion models require "theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge."

The report goes on to show that the top two regions for H1-Bs are New York and LA. That makes sense: Madison Avenue and Hollywood generate an enormous demand for fashion models.

Brookings identifies the key problem: "The challenge for policymakers is to figure out how to meet the demand for high-skilled workers by developing an immigration policy that allows the United States to continue to attract the foreign workers that it needs, while at the same time educating and training U.S. workers for these jobs in the near future."

It's time we replace those annoying STEM classes with Fashion 101, Advanced Runway Walking, and A Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown (actually, that is the title of a real, and fun, book).

(1) One that I just made up

Published June 21, 2013