My recent experience in the San Francisco Bay area helps me understand the feeling of animosity I observe in a certain segment of the American population towards foreigners and immigrants, and why Donald Trump has been so successful as a republican presidential candidate in the polls lately.
I am a foreign born engineer and a first generation American. I lived in the US for 20 years so far. I worked for various companies in various states in the US. I have been living in the San Francisco Bay area for the last 5 months, and I have been observing something completely different than my earlier experience in this country. I shouldn’t say completely different, but certain things are a lot more visible and obvious here.
As an engineer, I have been seeing a ratio of foreign born technical staff to American born staff of approximately 50% at various companies I worked for. This is a high ratio of immigrants, but it is the tech sector, and that has been the way it is in this sector. This never looked peculiar to me or anyone around me. I have been one of them (the foreign born engineers) as well.
But in the Bay area, what I have been observing in the last several months is that the ratio is more like 90%. This is outrageous even for me.
This is the Silicon Valley, full of tech companies, and in my observation, 80% of the technical staff around here is Asian (Indian or people from Far East), and another 10% is middle eastern. Only the rest, which is the remaining 10% is the American born, mostly white, christian or jewish Americans.
I am finding out that the inflow of foreign engineers to this region has been enormous especially in the last 10-15 years, and it is not expected to slow down in the near future, and possibly even increase.
This is probably also the part of the cause for the ridiculous increase in the housing cost in this area in the last decade. Houses around here easily cost 3-4 times the national average for comparable homes, and it is still very difficult to find housing.
One of my colleagues at work tells me that the value of his house was about 750K last year, and currently it is valued at more than a million dollars. Nowhere else in the country, possibly in the world, the value of a residence would increase this much within just a year.
Is this increase in the housing cost a futile attempt to keep the foreign engineers out? Or is it just the expected result of a booming tech sector, concentrated in one area?
And where do all the people who work at Walmart, and fast food industry, etc live around here? The housing cost is barely manageable even for people with an engineer’s income. I am hearing from the radio shows, etc that the middle class is being driven away from the Bay area by the increasing housing cost lately. But where do they go, I do not know. They probably all have very long commutes.
Another result of this is the terrible traffic of course. It is impossible to get anywhere within a reasonable time during rush hours around here.
And finding the work-life balance is not possible either, especially if you are in the tech sector. Performance expectations from the employers are at levels that would be considered unrealistic by many other people who live and work in the other areas of the country. The schedules are tight, and unrealistic even. And that is also probably because of all the competition these foreign workers bring here. They want to distinguish themselves, and other than technical competence, the only other thing they can offer is more work than the other guy. So, even though the employers pay for 40 hours per week for a full time job, 60 hour work weeks are very common for many people in the tech sector.
So, it is not for the family man anymore, or anyone who wants to have a life outside work.
But, why is this happening? If Americans do not want this to happen, and do not approve it, then what is the force behind this?
As usual, it is the money and profit I think. Using the foreign workers here in the US increases the profit margins of the technology companies, due to lower wages they can pay to the foreign H-1B workers for equivalent work, and also due to the long work hours and more aggressive work they get from the foreign workers, since they are eager to prove themselves and do not want to lose the chance to stay here.
So, the companies benefit from this by increasing their profit margins, and the foreign technical personnel benefit from this by being able to maintain a well paying job in the center of the high tech development in the world. The technical experience they get from this is invaluable for their career, and the pay is a lot better than what they can get back home as well. So, it is worth for them even though they have to work here very aggressively, and for very long hours.
But then, if you ask who loses here, it is of course the local technical talent. They cannot or are not willing to keep up with the aggressive schedules, or the work load here, which many of them would consider to be almost like slave labor. Ridiculusly expensive housing doesn’t help either, since even with an engineer’s salary, you would have to pay a significant portion of your pay for housing, either as rent, or as mortgage payments for multi million dollar homes that you will never actually own.
From this point of view, the life is like a rat race around here. You keep spinning the wheel, but not getting anywhere. For people who can find something better elsewhere in the country of course.
As a foreign born engineer, I never thought I would find myself feeling similar to the native borns here, but here I am, feeling and thinking like the priviliged white American engineers.
That is probably because I have been here long enough, almost turned into one of those, and most importantly, because I have seen better.
I lived in places that have affordable housing (such as Arizona), and worked for companies that provide a reasonable work-life balance.
And I undersdant the frustration of some of those priviliged native born republican white Americans who want to vote for people like Donald Trump thinking that under his presidency, they will get back what they lost.
They see foreigners as the people who steal their jobs, and people who destroy American way of life.
But what they do not see is that it is not the foreigners that cause this, it is the greedy corporations, and the greedy nature of the global capitalist economy.
This is the American people’s share of the problems of the world, and they have to learn to deal with it. They do not live in an isolated place, this is still the same planet. And compared to what the rest of the world is going through, this much discomfort is nothing, and the Americans should learn to deal with their share of the world’s problems.
So, there is no excuse for people to support people like Donald Trump just because of the frustration they feel due to the current state of the country, or the world in general. But, my point in this article is that at least I see their point of view, and for the first time in my life in this country, I feel similar things to what they must have been feeling all this time.