The truth about H1-B visas

This is a side of the immigration reform debate that isn’t getting much play – legal immigration. Specifically, the influx of immigrants to fill high-tech jobs, under H1-B visas.

The conventional wisdom is that the demand for high-tech professionals can’t be filled by US-born workers; and that without continually increasing the number of these visas, our economy will never be able to keep up.

Anecdotal and personal evidence is more along the lines that this is a way of keeping salaries down. My own company has just offshored a hundred or so high-tech jobs…which has got to increase the supply to that extent (and those positions are at least temporarily being filled by H1-B visa holders).

So where does the truth lie? Is there any way to know for sure?

Check out youtube and do a search for “cohen and grigsby.”

I have not (yet) found that they are used to suppress salaries. Part of the deal is that they are “supposed” to be paid at prevailing rate. (Of course, setting a prevailing rate and then flooding the market with more supply tends to reduce apparent demand, which does have a slight tendency to suppress wages. :stuck_out_tongue: )

In my experence, they are used to keep employees “in line.” Any H1-B holder who raises hell about ethics or quality of work or labor conditions can find their employer “no longer needing” them at a moment’s notice, leaving them scrambling to find cheap air tickets to India.

I worked with one manager (not in my direct report line or even my division) who was quite open about the fact that he preferred to use them for that purpose. The fact that he treated his U.S. staff pretty badly–with rumors that the visa guys were treated worse–tended to make his boast credible.

Similarly, there is a large outfit in Cleveland who can never quite find the “right” programmer in the Cleveland market where a couple of hundred programmers are scrambling for work. A guy at a contract outfit I where I was working actually got into the place when their H1-B got snagged on some paperwork and could not get into the country on time. When the paperwork was cleared, they dropped the guy I knew to bring in the H1-B coder. The claim was that only the H1-B had the required skills–even though the Yank had been doing exactly the requested job for months with no evidence (or even claim) that anything else was expected of him.

I’m sure there are many cheap H1Bs, but my experience has been very different. In Bell Labs we never touched one without an MS at least. They got paid exactly the same as permanent residents and citizens - I ran salary administration for our department for a couple of years, so this is not a supposition. The paperwork for a H1B is horrendous (probably worse now) so we weren’t interested in filling easy to find jobs.

For me, I’d much rather have H1Bs than outsource. The money stays in the US, any companies and inventions stay here too. But it would be nice if the law on this was enforced a bit better.

I have no doubt that there are some who abuse the H-1B system. At the same time though, I don’t doubt that companies often do have a hard time finding a U.S. citizen who can do the job.

That was certainly the case with an employer I had five years ago. They did not specifically try to hire H-1Bs; in fact, they would have preferred to avoid all the legal hassles that these would entail. They did, however, have a hard time finding anyone with the right skills for the jobs they needed. I remember that we received over a hundred resumes in response to one job posting (in which salary levels were not discussed), and not a single respondent was qualified.

Admittedly, this was for a highly skilled, cross-disciplinary engineering job; however, we had similar experiences with the more mundane programming jobs as well. The reality is that not all programmers are created equal. It’s often hard to find someone with the right skill level or background that you need, and who also has a good attitude toward work.

So no, I don’t buy the oft-stated notion that H-1Bs are superfluous, simply because there are Americans out there who are looking for work. The real world just isn’t that simple.

That’s something that people often forget. H-1B paperwork is both costly and incredibly time-consuming. If companies save any money on salaries by hiring an H-1B, it is often offset by the additional headaches and expenses that these positions entail.

I was in a L-1 for a year and it definitely was because the company hadn’t found someone in the US who fitted the bill; a L-1 requires the foreign worker to have worked with the company for at least two years abroad. The hiring manager told me during the interview that he’d much rather get an American (I told him I understood it perfectly, as it would have been my own position in his shoes) and was wary of bringing me in since we hadn’t had previous contact but that his current workers (my future coworkers) had threatened him with Hades and damnation if he didn’t hire me.

In a previous situation, I needed to be changed from my student visa and post-graduation automatic job permit to H-1B status. The company wanted me to stay but out and told me to go illegal :stuck_out_tongue: which I wasn’t willing to do (being Miami, the notion of “unlike the Cubans, I can go home” apparently went over their heads).

I can understand bringing an L-1 quite easily. In my case, I’d been on the other side of the job, I’d actually been doing some tasks that were part of the new job, I was familiar with corporate slang and practices… the other candidates (this was a “company only” search) were missing my experience and proven track record. Candidates outside the company would have missed the knowledge of “how we do things.” The company was large enough to get a quota of L-1s they could bring in and of how many they can have in; they didn’t need to justify every individual one beyond “she’s been with us since X date and here are our financial reports and the list of L-1s we now have”. They were nowhere near filling that quota.

I can understand looking locally and having your best candidate be a foreigner. OK, so you do whatever paperwork needs to be done.

But dangit, having to look overseas for the best fit? I know it happens (many Spanish hotels can’t find local housework personnel, for example; specially if they’re outside of the biggest cities) but damn, if I had to jump through so many hops to find and bring someone in, I would make sure the person I got was the best and then some!

This is IMHO, right? I ask because there are many that try to “shout me down” when I talk about this, but this is a topic that I know quite a bit about & I have an informed opinion to express here.

I helped build an organization that provided labor under H-1B visas for US firms when this was a new concept. The dirty truth is that the labor that is provided is not superior to US-based labor. The labor provided is simply cheaper. It does take away US jobs - supposedly to make the US people available for the “better” positions. In most cases, it makes just them unemployed.

The credentials for a lot of these “skilled” workers include resumes that are inflated to appear to be better. If they were “senior developers”, it really meant that they had attended a class on the particular language. If they were “senior project managers”, it meant that they had coded (successfully or not) a program.

Many of the “highly educated” workers had credentials from exotic-sounding “universities”. In reality, many of these were diploma mills aimed at quickly churning out as many “skilled” workers as possible. Many of them had “MBA” on the resume. Of course, no one thought to ask what MBA stood for and assumed it was a master’s degree of US standard when in fact it was a 2 week mail-order certificate. No one checks anything except the box on the list that says “worker has MBA”. Makes you wonder why people get upset when they find out that US people lie on their resumes, doesn’t it?

I cringe when I see so many companies assume that all the rules & regs from the states are followed when they send their work offshore. In reality, they get what they pay for. What good is it to have a cheap developer when it takes a room full of them an entire day debating what had been done by a single US resource that they laid off? Well, someone is getting a big bonus check because it is assumed that offshore is cheaper & high quality. Do the consumers see anything from this savings? Have you noticed any price declines as your paycheck has gone down?

Bringing the offshore workers into the US as H-1B workers follows a similar misconception on playing by the rules. You see, when offshore workers are brought here, many of the rules & regs are not always followed either. Many of these people are crammed into a single room at extended-stay hotel rooms at the lowest rates. (Yes, it does happen & I have seen it done many, many, MANY times). No client complains because the travel expenses are kept low to offset the airfare it takes to bring them here. The workers do not complain because they will be sent home unemployed.

The arguments for use of H-1B and offshore resources really kind of remind me of the same arguments made by the slave holders in the early periods of the US - the economy will collapse without use of them, we can’t find workers to do the jobs, etc. The reality is that this is just another set of people that are being exploited for the gain of someone else. Yes, the offshore workers do so willingly - as did the people working in the sweatshops at the turn of the last century. Somehow, that was deemed wrong and laws were passed to prevent that exploitation.

I figure that at some point, the dirty truths will be open for public view. The US workers that have been carrying the IT industry will continue to retire or find other work. There will be fewer and fewer students entering the MIS and CIS programs in college. At some point, consumers will scream about the lower levels of service that are being delivered (wait - is it Dell that discovered this already?) Then, perhaps quality instead of price will be considered.

I question whether we will have an economy left to buy the products & services of these companies. I have heard that the classes are stratifying more & more and that what was known as the middle class is rapidly disappearing. Single income families can not make ends meet. Kids are suffering from lack of parental involvement. Lots of fallout here. In my opinion, unless US business starts looking at what can be done within the country, we will continue down this destructive path. The answer is inside the borders - not outside. Global economy is only true if there is a balance of trade. Right now, it is rather one sided.

We do not need more H-1B visas. What we need is some common sense, some more exposure of the reality of what truly is happening, and some application of the regulations that already exist in our country.

If anyone cares to watch the youtube video i referenced above they can see the truth of your comments.

My company recently offshored a systems development group, and the internal development cost immediately doubled. But hey, payroll & benefits dollars went down, so it’s all good, right?

I know you are saying that with tongue firmly in cheek. :wink:

I just watched that. It never ceases to amaze me how far people will go to destroy our economy just to make a few bucks themselves. Unfortunately for everyone, there are many companies out there that specialize in doing this. I know of one that created software designed to streamline the process described in that video. :frowning:

makes you proud to be an American. reminds me of a quote that goes something like “when they come to hang him the American will try and sell them the rope.”