January 20, 2005 10:00 AM PST

Another H-1B battle coming?

As the ink on a new law expanding the H-1B visa program begins to dry, another battle is already brewing about how many new foreign skilled workers, including computer professionals, should be allowed to work in the United States on the visas--and under what terms.

Critics of the H-1B program oppose raising the annual cap from its current level of 65,000. Last month, President Bush approved visa program changes, including an exemption to the cap for up to 20,000 foreigners earning graduate degrees at U.S. schools.

This new exemption comes on top of existing exemptions for institutions of higher education, nonprofit research organizations and governmental research organizations. For fiscal years 2000 to 2003, the number of new visas exempt from the annual cap averaged nearly 28,000. (Information about fiscal year 2004 was not yet available.)

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What's new:
Just weeks after the H-1B visa program was expanded, a battle is brewing over how many new foreign skilled workers should be allowed to work in the United Sates on the visas--and under what terms.

Bottom line:
Backers of the guest worker visas say the annual cap of 65,000 is too low, having been reached the first day of this fiscal year. But critics oppose a higher cap as harmful to U.S. workers and call for more worker safeguards.

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Cap exemptions could translate into more than 40,000 additional foreign workers this year, said Vin O'Neill, legislative representative for the U.S. wing of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers professional group.

The cap is intended to provide a safeguard, but it's losing its meaning, O'Neill argues. "The greater the supply, the more leverage the employer has to drive down wages."

Critics also complain that the revamped visa program fails in other ways to adequately protect workers. But H-1B defenders point to new measures designed to benefit the American work force. Backers also say exceptions to the cap are needed and that if anything, the cap should be raised or eliminated. They note that this year's visa ceiling was reached on the very first day of the federal government's fiscal year, Oct. 1.

"We're still going to run into cap problems," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America trade group. "I've never believed the cap was necessary or appropriate."

A ticket to controversy
H-1B visas allow skilled foreign workers to come into the country for up to six years. Thirty-nine percent of visa petitions approved in 2003 were for workers in computer-related occupations, with nearly 37 percent of all approvals that year for workers born in India.

The annual cap, which primarily applies to applications for initial employment, has fluctuated over the years. Congress raised the cap from 65,000 to 115,000 in 2000. It then raised it to 195,000 for 2001 through 2003. When the cap fell back to 65,000 in 2004, employers hit the visa limit less than halfway through the fiscal year.

H-1B visas have long been a flashpoint of controversy in the tech industry. Critics have blasted the H-1B program as undermining U.S. workers, being ripe for abuse and fueling the shift of skilled work overseas. Industry leaders have said the visas serve instead as a brake on offshoring, defending them as a means to fill shortages and give U.S. companies access to international talent as they compete globally.

Recent changes to the H-1B program and to the also-controversial L-1 visa program were part of a catch-all bill signed into law by President Bush in December.

Bobby Chung, an immigration attorney based in Southern California, said it was quite possible that all 20,000 of the new visas for foreigners with graduate degrees from U.S. schools will be taken--and likely that the number of other exempt new visas will be similar to the 28,000

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14 comments

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I'm giving up after 15 years....
My pay has been cut; my employers treat me like a blue-collar worker but without hourly pay. My "peers" speak less and less English, and we're tired of being on the phone with the Ukraine trying to get them to fix code that I could have done right the first time.
I'm seriously looking at other industries. This one has burned me.
Posted by TheMidnightCoder (61 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Lead a Revolt!
Just shows that your votes and our tax dollars don't count. What matters is the fat-cats at the top getting more of the profit margins by outsourcing the jobs and/or allowing undercutting programmers into the country. I suggest everyone report ANY company that is hiring H1 visa tech workers - especially if you are out of a job. It is a disgrace.

I too am tired of being on the phone with India telling them to re-write code. I'm tired of calling a customer support line and not being able to understand through the accent what the person is saying or trying to get them to understand what I'm saying.

Gee, Ma, I got me a colluge dugree and now I can work at Wal-Mart 'cause my job belongs to the gov't international work-welfare program. Gee, the honor of being an American - you get to stand last in line while you get screwed.

I finally joined <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.fairus.org/" target="_newWindow">http://www.fairus.org/</a> Federation for American Immigration Reform. Band together and let's work to take back our country and jobs.
Posted by alcatraz_centurion (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
think before you jump
before you rush to blame the world for the H1-B problem
in the US consider this:
1. immigration and immigrant workers have always been
part of America. it's an immigrant country. when should
you put a cap on immigration; after your family has moved
in? your friends?

2. the article mentions taxpayers money going to
universities to pay for foreign students. keep in mind that
foreign students actually pay twice than citizens. also, in
private schools, no taxpayers money is being used. without
foreign students many universities would have had to close.

3. consider the fact that American share holders of a
company are driving it to outsource since they expect an
endless growth graph every year. it's the money culture
that started this game in the first place.

4. if most unemployed citizens were more competitive in
their attitude and typical workplaces would actually reward
on competency then maybe you'd see less relyance on
obedient low wage H1-B.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
From someone who was actually been there and done that...
I am an ex-H1-B worker, now a permanent resident, so I know what I am talking about. The immigration problem is not H1-B's, which have NOTHING to do with immigration - the problem is the pathetic US immigration program that takes someone 3-5 years to get a permanent resident visa, and another 5-10 years to get citizenship.
I'm all for hard-working, well-educated, English-speaking immigrants like myself contributing to American society. I am dead-set against companies like Tata Consultancy Services, who bring in programmers with 5 years or more of experience on an L1 visa (inter-company transfer) that make $30,000 a year. I would not have come here on an H1B visa if I could have applied for permanent residence directly - but at the time, that would have taken 5 years, which is an insane amount of time to have to wait.
Then again, if I had known in advance about the years of indentured servitude and abuse that I had to endure until I got permanent residence, and the sacrifices I would have to make, I probably would not have done it in the first place.
I have consistently won against other candidates, both US and foreign, because of my skills and work ethic, not because I was cheaper. On the contrary, I have not made less than 6 figures in the last 5 years.
I am against offshoring for many reasons, some of obvious self-interest (yes, I know, it's ironic), and some of national interest (like, the US domain knowledge is flowing to foreign countries).
To conclude, I am with those who are against the abuse of the H1-B program, and and I am with those who are for immigration reform, so that properly qualified candidates - not el cheapo sweatshop workers - can add to the economy here and bring back the technical work to where it belongs - right here in the USA.
Posted by yobtvoya (41 comments )
Link Flag
Pompous assumption
So you are assuming that all unemployed workers are lazy and not willing to work hard? Shame on you. Most tech workers I know are willing to work - at half the salaries they once made for longer hours, less benefits, etc. They simply WANT TO WORK. You are assuming they want to sit around, do nothing and make money. You are quite wrong.
Posted by alcatraz_centurion (2 comments )
Link Flag
ITAA's Miller says it all
ITAA's Miller says it all -- about how tech corporations no longer share the same interests as U.S. tech workers. His comment -- about how we're throwing away our (taxpayers') investment in foreign tech students if we don't give them visas -- shows his usual chutzpah: we would be stupid not to let corporations benefit from the educations we've subsidized -- by replacing us with those same visa holders.

The ITAA and its members will do their best to fabricate another "crisis" and get visa limits raised. Claims that tech worker unemployment is down probably ignore all those who've given up looking over the past 3+ years.

Why Miller always rates an interview on this topic I'll never understand  the ITAA is a shill for tech corporations that don't have the slightest interest in the future of this country, much less people who have to work for a living.

All visa sponsorship (and all domestic work sent offshore) should be a matter of public record. I want to see exactly which (foreign consultancies, IBM?) snapped up the H-1Bs. It's bad enough that corporations pretty much own the Bush administration and congress. To have none of them held accountable, and to have to listen to their lies year after year is too much.
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is this revenge for the prima donnas of the late 90's
You know those jerks who thought they were god and demanded on job perks like trampolines?

Don't only blame the corporations, programmers did plenty to alienate themselves against their employers.
Posted by (242 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We ask to much?
I know a few techs and programmers. I am one myself. Most of them are babies. They want it their way and if they don't get it will cry about it for a month. They expect to get paid six figures a year for stuff that a high school kid can do. I don't agree with outsourcing jobs or immigrating cheap labor, but who wants to run a business full of people who self absorbed with their own talent.

On the flip side I know a few techs and programmers that are competitive and supportive. They build a community of people who strive for the best in their fields and find failure just another stepping stone to perfection. We learn from each other and build better relationships with empoyers and other employees.

We need more people like this. It's not going to stop companies from importing cheap labor, but it's still a step in the right direction.

Best advice I have ever had is 'stop complaining and take action'.

Another note: Techs with A+ certification need to stop charging $45-$60 an our because they don't deserve it. Even the smartest one shouldn't get more than $25 and hour.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
Foreign talent?????
I would like to address the quote from Mr. Miller in the referenced article. His quote is delimited below. I have added additional comments after Mr. Miller's quoted argument.

I wonder if Mr. Miller has ever experienced the frustration of calling for support or reading instruction/support manuals written by Indian nationals, and attempting to decipher their interpretation of logic in our language and technology. My experience of communication has been so frustrating and time-consuming that I no longer contact customer support for any software product; communication problems invariably result in a waste of my time and productivity. I either work around the problem or trash the product.

It is my opinion that companies that hire foreign "talent" in IT and software development are fooling themselves. These individuals generally lack the communication skills and the logic required for problem-solving. Support technicians follow a trouble-shooting script which could as easily be published as a web-based support document.

We would better benefit by having American employees with communication and clerical skills and the ability to follow instructions from one skilled leader than having these "talented" foreigners attempting to program and communicate their culturally-biased skills to American professionals.

==============
Article Quote:
The new cap exclusion of up to 20,000 graduate degree holders is a smart move to keep smart talent on U.S. soil, ITAA's Miller argues.

"Granting this exemption puts America first by giving U.S. employers access to this talent and giving U.S. taxpayers a bigger return on the tax dollars they invest every year in U.S. institutions of higher learning," Miller said in a statement after Congress passed the omnibus bill. "Foreign students make up 50 percent or more of attendance in many advanced-math, science and engineering programs. Forcing foreign students to return home after earning their advanced degrees sends that public investment packing."
==============
Additional comment:
Firstly, by "public investment", does this mean we are subsidizing foreign education? It has always been my understanding that educational institutions exact subsidy fees from foreign students, just as an American pays subsidy fees if they decide to study at an institution in a state other than their state of residence. (I admit some ignorance here. By mention of exemption in this legislation, the law may be exempting foreign students from this subsidy fee. Regardless, if we are exempting these foreign students from the subsidy, I am definitely opposed.)

Secondly, any foreign students that we would be sending home have the primary (and possibly only) option of providing service to the country in which they were educated, America. (If they provide their services to other countries, I believe this would result in a technological disadvantage to these countries, just as I believe that using this foreign "talent" in America puts us at a disadvantage.)
The difference is that we aren't subsidizing their presence in the U.S.
Posted by bockmon (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is not talent
The truth is that these visas are doing a lousy job, It's a game, first
one to tell management it does not work very well gets fired.

I now make it a point to never call anyone's customer support when
I know it's going overseas. Because all I get is mangaled English
and really bad advice.
Posted by waynehapp (52 comments )
Link Flag
BULL
This is not the globalization. It is the hammering down of
American workers. Why's everyone so eager go get all these H1-
B's. It's about as close to serfdom as you can get in America.

The price of education is far outstripping the diminishing
resources of American making the prospect of paying back any
student loans.

Know what the fastest growing jobs in America are? Criminal mal
- Justice system and cleaning out the diapers of aging baby
boomers.
Posted by waynehapp (52 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sword of Damocles
Of course companies like H1 workers!

Job loss is a sword of Damocles for these foreigners. If an H1 worker gets canned, and is unable find a replacement sponsor company within a short amount of time, they must exit the country in short order. Such would be a major disruption to their hopes and dreams, and those of their immediate family members who are also forging a life in the U.S.A.

Yup, management CAN coax a lot out of an H1. They've got a mighty big whip.
Posted by justinCaseBorked (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The foreignization of computer programming
The following is an excerpt from the article
"Why a career in computer programming sucks"
by halfsigma
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.halfsigma.com/2007/03/why_a_career_in.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.halfsigma.com/2007/03/why_a_career_in.html</a>

...
The foreignization of computer programming

I?m sorry about using a word that doesn?t exist in the dictionary, but foreignization best explains what?s happening in the computer programming industry.

First of all, there is the familiar outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries, mostly India. Because of this, the computer programming industry within the United States is an industry with a shrinking number of jobs, although as a worldwide phenomenon I?m sure computer programming will grow at a brisk rate. Would outsourcing of computer programming and other IT jobs be such a big trend if the industry were more prestigious? I think not. You don?t see lawyers being outsourced. In fact, by law, only members of the bar are allowed to practice law, so it would be illegal for foreigners to do American legal work.

The other half of foreignization is the near abandonment of the domestic IT market to foreigners. This is a trend that is accelerated by the issuance of special H1-B visas that allow extra computer programmers to come here and take jobs away from American programmers. Computer programming (along with nursing) has been specially targeted by our government for foreignization.

Foreignization creates a vicious circle effect with the low prestige of the profession. Because the profession has low prestige, employers balk at the idea of having to pay high salaries (while it seems perfectly appropriate if a lawyer or investment banker is making a lot of money). Thus the demand for more H1-B visas so that salaries can be decreased. In turn, Americans see an industry full of brown people speaking barely intelligible English, and this further lowers the industry?s prestige. Computer programming and IT in general is now seen as the foreigner?s industry and not a proper profession for upwardly mobile white Americans. [http://The Indian and Asian people I've known in the IT industry are nice people, and normally I don't pay attention to their different appearance, so this should not be taken as a racist dislike of non-white people. I am only accurately describing the fact that the typical white American thinks negatively of a profession that's predominately non-white. And I stand by my belief that people born in this country have more rights to the money being created here than foreigners. Asian countries feel the same way about foreigners. Asian countries are, typically, a lot less open to foreign worker immigrants than is the U.S.|http://The Indian and Asian people I've known in the IT industry are nice people, and normally I don't pay attention to their different appearance, so this should not be taken as a racist dislike of non-white people. I am only accurately describing the fact that the typical white American thinks negatively of a profession that's predominately non-white. And I stand by my belief that people born in this country have more rights to the money being created here than foreigners. Asian countries feel the same way about foreigners. Asian countries are, typically, a lot less open to foreign worker immigrants than is the U.S.]

Because there is no reason to think that the trend of foreignization will reverse, this will ensure that the future of the industry will be lower salaries.
Posted by justinCaseBorked (21 comments )
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