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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

WHEN ONE OCCUPATION HOLDS THE ENTIRE COUNTRY HOSTAGE

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If you talk to the average Programmers Guild member, they're properly utterly clueless that there is a world beyond IT. Despite the fact that most H-1B visa holders are NOT in IT fields, a relatively small group of workers in that field have not only prevented international workers to come in for their employers, but also for every other sector of the economy even when shortages are acute and well-documented. And even when its the neediest of Americans who pay the price for this form of protectionism.



Two examples that come to mind are teaching and health care. Just this morning, the NY Times reported on the shortage of teachers around the US as hundreds of thousands of baby boomers are retiring. And folks who read this blog know about my extensive writing on the very real, very scary shortage of doctors in the US.



A lot of hospitals didn't get their doctors and a lot of schools are using substitute teachers (anyone remember tormenting your subs back in the day?) simply to protect workers in a single occupation which, by the way, has an unemployment rate less than 3%.



And there are little known fields across the US economy that are being decimated by the lack of visas. This morning's Wall Street Journal has an extensive report on this issue. Here's a little taste (the WSJ is a subscription site so unfortunately you can't read the whole thing:

Janet Reardon wants to hire a senior engineer for her company's Los Angeles
office -- but first she has to send him to Canada. That's because the engineer,
an Indian now working in Kuwait, is among tens of thousands of educated
foreigners offered jobs in the U.S. this year but unable to get visas.


Ms. Reardon, a human-resource manager at Corrpro Cos. Inc., has asked
the corrosion-prevention firm's Canadian unit to take on the engineer until the
company can reapply for a visa next year. But no one is particularly happy about
that. The engineer, with 20 years' experience, would rather move to Southern
California; Corrpro's Canadian managers are reluctant to hire an employee they
might lose in months; and Ms. Reardon can't be sure that next year will bring
the coveted visa.

But she persists because corrosion specialists are
rare. 'It's like hitting the jackpot,' she says. 'Corrosion is not the sexiest
industry.'

As opponents worry about foreigners undercutting well-paid
American workers and debate continues over reshaping U.S. immigration laws,
companies like Corrpro are quietly taking matters into their own hands, with
elaborate workarounds to retain foreign job applicants who can't get visas.

There are some who argue that we should be emphasizing green cards over H-1Bs.  And I don't necessarily take issue with the logic that green cards empower workers more (though H-1B portability largely does the same thing). But it's a cop out to say this and then sit on your hands as companies move operations overseas and abandon the US labor market all together. Or Americans needing services in fields that cannot be as easily outsourced (such as health care and education) suffer needlessly. I say if you can get Congress to increase the green card numbers as needed, more power to you. But note that many workers are NOT interested in permanent residency and even if you wanted to make green cards available for all who wanted them, it takes a year to two years typically to get through green card processing with or without quotas. Employers shouldn't have to wait that long to fill a job sitting vacant.



OK, programmers - go to town on me and pass this post around the blogosphere. I'm sure I'll be hearing from you in the comments.

 

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  1. pablo's Avatar
    Greg, I'm a theoretical computer scientist (working for a research facility on H-1b) and find this whole debate ridiculous. The people who specialize and do research in my area can be counted on the fingers of one hand, so I find it hard to believe that any of them would be stealing the job of anybody else.

    The Programmer's Guild is laughable because they make the whole CS field look stupid and outdated. They equate the whole of CS to programming, and make it appear as if it is a medieval profession that needs protection by a guild.

    I realize many programmers may feel offended but programming is not such a noble and great profession and it's not any different than carpentry. Programming can be done by anyone and that's why it's so easily outsourced. There are many other areas in CS that have nothing to do with programming, yet the programming guild's arguments assume that everyone on H-1 is a programmer.
  2. Legal Immi's Avatar
    Greg,

    My sister , brother in law and all of their friends are pharmacists. I can pass on their information for any reporter who wants to cover h1bs. It takes something to be a qualified pharmacist , They have to clear at least more than 4 tests to be a pharmacist which includes TSE(Test of spoken english). They dont get paid a penny less than an american. Infact these big box retailers would be happy to hire an american rather sponsering some foreign national.
  3. Alex's Avatar
    Take a look at the list of the top N H1B sponsors and count IT-related.
  4. Anonymous's Avatar
    "I realize many programmers may feel offended but programming is not such a noble and great profession and it's not any different than carpentry. "

    You have no clue as to what we do.

    Anyone can be a code-monkey. Not everyone can design and build world-class applications.

    The PG assumes nothing. We know that there are many people on H-1b visas, on L1 visas, and many are permanent residents or citizens. Much of the knowledge surrounding this is based on what information the government is willing to reveal.

    The fact that you equate the PG to a guild of long ago reveals that you know nothing about the organization. Stop attacking my profession! Your ignorant and untrue remarks against hard working professionals deserve no further comment.

    Greg, you don't allow people to bash lawyers on this blog. Why do you allow people to bash software engineers? I'm not going to pass this link around. Let's just see who shows up.
  5. immigrant's Avatar
    PG s association with numbers usa is good enough to know where you guild guys are coming from and what your organization is upto? Your organization blames people for accepting an oppurtunity. Dont blame H1B visa holders for accepting jobs. Dont blame immigrants for the culture of wanting everything cheap including toys ,code writers. Your organization and its affiliates assume that everyone is noble except immigrants. Just an honest question can you please find out from guild how many resumes it forwarded to microsoft.
  6. Legal and waiting's Avatar
    Roy, do you know how many H1Bs are working in Microsoft's buildings ##40-41, where the mother of all 'world class applications', MS Visual Studio, is created? It's like every second person who works there were brought on H1B. Trust me, if you were good enough to work there, you would not have to switch to smearing foreign workers for living.
  7. pablo's Avatar
    No, I was just pointing out that there's a big difference between people who work at IBM Research, IAS (Princeton), or DIMACS (Rutgers), and people who do run-of-the-mill software engineering and piece code together. I know you and I can never agree on this, but the difference between theoretical research and regular software engineering is like the difference between a star chef and a Taco Bell employee. It doesn't make any difference whether the Taco Bell food assembly line worker calls themselves Sandwich Engineer or not - the work remains the same.

    As to Visual Studio, it's the biggest piece of crap I've ever seen. I have friends who work at Microsoft Research and even they don't use the IDE to write code because it is too buggy.

    I'm not insulting Software Engineers or System Administrators.
    These are jobs that I respect because there is a need for them and they provide valuable services. I just don't think they require that many qualifications. For one, you don't need a PhD to write C++ OO code, use design patterns, and do unit testing. I find it insulting, however, that the Programmer's Guild wants to make people believe that all professions in IT are the same, and that programming is the pinnacle of IT. Only a person who works in a medieval guild can have this frame of mind.

    Again, I apologize, but I find the Programmer's Guild hilarious. It invokes images of medieval blacksmiths and carpenters who worked in guilds, and who didn't realize that the industrial revolution had already come.
  8. pablo's Avatar
    Again, apologies to anyone who work for MS on Visual Studio. My comment was not meant to disparage the work these people do. (I do believe the product is buggy but this is a general problem which is due to Microsoft management rather than individual programmers.) All I want to point out is that not only is there a world outside IT, but that there is a whole world inside IT which has nothing to do with medieval guilds and furniture craftsmanship. The Programmer's Guild doesn't have a monopoly on the whole field of IT/CS. They don't even understand Computer Science well enough to call themselves Software Engineers, and hence they fail to realize that there is a need for specialists the US cannot supply. They believe CS and IT is all about coding. As Dijkstra has said, however, "Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes".
  9. Legal and waiting's Avatar
    Hey, you're not going to insult me - I work outside IT, and outside tech altogether. This is why Roy never made sense to me - I work for Fortune 500 companies, not Indian, not a programmer, but of course, I don't deserve to get a work visa, because there is like 3 Inial conslting companies that Roy hates (and to whom he appareantly lost his job) who allegedly treat their people bad. Well, remove H1B cap, and these people will be able to change jobs more freely - end of the story. No, his solution makes sure those 3 companies are the only ones left who would ever hire an H1 person, so, it's like servitude forever, and of course, there is no place for people like me... well, maybe just Canada ;-)
  10. legal but not holding my breath's Avatar
    Roy, your organization (PG) wants to abolish H-1Bs under the false assumption that all H-1Bs are cheap coders/programmers and that they're stealing the jobs of American programmers. There are not only H-1Bs who are outside IT, but also there are H-1Bs who work in computer science who teach at universities and work for academic and industrial research centers. How many of your guild's members are qualified to fill such positions (i.e. computer science or applied math professors and researchers with hundreds of publications)?

    I can tell you that any of my American colleagues who has any serious IT experience would be ashamed to be associated with organizations like the Programmer's Guild. Anybody who is well qualified already has a job, and can get many job offers if they decide to change their current one. The general perception in the Software Engineering field is that PG's members are mostly ex-WalMart employees who temporarily had IT jobs during the DotCom boom and got burnt by the Dot-Com crash, but who were never qualified enough to be in that field in the first place.
  11. Calouste's Avatar
    Just for a laugh: http://www.programmersguild.org/

    In summary:
    - Latest news item almost a year ago
    - Half the positions for board members and officers are open
    - Latest events organized in 2004
    - "Monthly" newsletter published twice this year

    Do we really take these people seriously?
  12. pablo's Avatar
    Calouste, you're right. I guess most of the guild members already got jobs and left the guild out of embarrassment. It's definitely not a good professional organization to put on your resume either. The web site is kind of sad, but at least it doesn't have pictures of people programming on abacuses, as I expected.
  13. Anonymous's Avatar
    I support the IEEE-USA position more so than the PG position on the H-1b. However, the positions aren't too far apart. My position is to transition the H-1b to a GC and no employer sponsorship, and family members don't count towards the GC cap. That's not good enough for some of you, so whatever.

    It's clear that you are here to bash American tech workers, so it's no point for me to even engage in such a discussion. I don't bash H-1b workers - because it isn't about them.
  14. Samir Nagheenanajar's Avatar
    Roy, what's the difference really? I have friends who won green-cards on the DV lottery and they have no intention of becoming US citizens or staying in the US permanently. They just use the green-cards to get work in the summers and then go home to spend the money they earned. Even if you abolish H-1 and make everybody get a GC, you can't force people to stay here forever.
  15. JoeF's Avatar
    "The general perception in the Software Engineering field is that PG's members are mostly ex-WalMart employees who temporarily had IT jobs during the DotCom boom and got burnt by the Dot-Com crash, but who were never qualified enough to be in that field in the first place."

    Yup, that's exactly the impression the top people of the PG leave in the Usenet group where they hang out. I have had quite a lot of flame wars with them several years back, and they are indeed a bunch of completely incompetent people. No wonder they can't get jobs in the computer industry. They don't have an IT education to speak of.
    None of my friends and colleagues (mostly in the computer industry) would ever join such a bunch of losers.

    The IEEE-USA position, btw, is equally ridiculous. They use the "more GCs, less H1s' line only as cheap smoke screen to limit all immigration, and nobody who actually isn't stuck in the mainframe era believes their line.
  16. Anonymous's Avatar
    "Roy, what's the difference really? I have friends who won green-cards on the DV lottery and they have no intention of becoming US citizens or staying in the US permanently. "

    I'm Anonymous. The difference is that those on a GC have the option to change jobs. Those on the H-1b - who want to stay permanently - cannot change jobs without impacting their application. Employer sponsorship amounts to indentured servitude. It harms wages.

    It's a shame that people apply for the DV lottery with no intention of staying. Those people should seek a temporary path if they have no intention of staying permanently. They are taking the slot of someone who does want to make a new life here.
  17. JoeF's Avatar
    "The difference is that those on a GC have the option to change jobs. Those on the H-1b - who want to stay permanently - cannot change jobs without impacting their application."

    Wrong. I suggest you learn about the H1 program before posting such stupid misinformation (and I am formulating this in a friendly manner.)

  18. Samir Nagheenanajar's Avatar
    Roy, you're not anonymous since we know who you are.

    The H-1B is the only generally feasible path to permanent residency. No employer in their right mind would spend time and money to hire somebody on a green-card without having seen how that person is going to perform and whether they'd be a good fit for the company.

    As to people on DV, they can do whatever they please. It is the program that allows them to do that, and they don't break any rules. The DV is random and non-selective and anybody (even people without any education and chance to contribute) can win.
  19. Anonymous's Avatar
    Sorry JoeF, you are wrong. That makes you stupid. And I'm being nice.

    If you apply for permanent residence while on the H-1b, changing jobs results in your perm application starting over. Just because you say otherwise doesn't make you right.
  20. Anonymous's Avatar
    Samir, does it feel good to be a gangsta?

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0619651/

    Heh, that's too funny. Taking the name of the character in Office Space. If you don't get this comment, watch the movie.

    "The H-1B is the only generally feasible path to permanent residency. No employer in their right mind would spend time and money to hire somebody on a green-card without having seen how that person is going to perform and whether they'd be a good fit for the company."

    Corporations have no business in immigration. Their motives aren't pure. I believe that we should waive all fees for people with exceptional skills - so that other than travel expenses and time, the process should be free. Also, I don't believe people with exceptional skills will have a problem finding jobs or paying for travel since they will earn more.

    We need more doctors and less junior level java developers - or "freshers" as you call them. It shouldn't be about cheap labor.

    There are legitimate use of the H-1b. Unfortunately many firms, mostly inolved in IT offshoring and from India, abuse the program. Greg complains about us hijacking things, but he hasn't done a thing to stop the abuse from these handful of companies. If these companies weren't abusing the program, I wouldn't be spending my time on this issue.
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