Wanted: Foreign tech workers
Congress faces pressure to raise the number of visas for temporary employees.
FSB -- When Elizabeth Charnock couldn't find the talent she needed to keep her small Silicon Valley (high cost of living requiring high people costs) software company Cataphora (catphora.com) growing, she looked for workers overseas. Finding the skilled employees she sought, the CEO applied for eight H1B visas for fiscal 2008. The documents enable foreigners with technical skills to work temporarily in the U.S.
"We did everything you're supposed to do," says Charnock. "We hired an immigration lawyer, we filed the first day. It went into a lottery. Five of our eight hires got visas." Two of the three that didn't had already sold their homes to move to California from Europe. "Their lives were turned upside down. They are stuck," adds Charnock, "and so are we. The competition for these people here is insane." (from Europe! this is an unusual path .. would be interesting to know if these were native Europeans or Asian immigrants doing H-1B type work in Europe ... Europe might be new 'training league' for US ?)
Being able to get H-1B visas for needed workers is essential for small companies, she says. "It levels the playing field," she says. (does this mean 'cheaper labor costs allow us to compete'?)
Charnock is one of a groundswell of entrepreneurs and advocates for immigrants who say Congress needs to raise the cap on H-1B visas to help the economy. Last week 1,000 protestors-mostly legal immigrants-drew attention to the situation of highly skilled foreigners who want to work for companies in the U.S. by marching on Capitol Hill.
The demonstrators said that potential employees-who are needed in growing fields such as engineering and software development-are being shut out because of a lack of H-1B visas. According to the protesters, if the U.S. does not accept more foreign workers with skills in math, engineering and computer science, the nation risks losing ground in the global economy, because the computer scientists who can't find work in the U.S. will go to work for economic rivals. (part of the lack of H-1B availability are the head-hunting agencies that grab up most of the visas on opening day ... they then control the human traffic and further lower the real wages that the immigrants receive) .
Governors from 13 states are now weighing in on the issue. California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, and New York's Eliot Spitzer, were among those who signed a Sept. 11 letter (http://gov.ca.gov/index.php?/press-release/7381/) to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner urging them to raise the cap on the number of H1-B visas, which the governors say was set "arbitrarily" and today "bears no relation to our economy." (note that the 3 governors listed here are from high-tech states, California, NY and Mass, with significant high-tech corps lobbying these governments)
The H-1B program has its critics, including U.S.-born programmers, who say the visas serve mainly to drive down salaries of American tech workers. Some employers also question the value of the H-1B program. Miles Thomason, CEO of Levia Softwar (leviasoftware.com), a four-person company in Atlanta, says that when other companies hire H1-B workers and pay them a lower wages than Thomason pays his American workers, he loses competitiveness. He has tried to hire foreign-born programmers, but has not had positive experiences: "On paper they look good but the interviews don't go well," he says. "Communication issues alone are problematic for us." (this is the almost universal experience of users of the program , from the people who are close to the ground , people who interface with the hires, like this guy with just a 4 person company)
Should the U.S. raise the cap on H-1B visas? Comment here.
Nonetheless, many in the technology community (does this mean coporate lobbyists , immigration lawyers and immigrant advocate orgs ?) have complained for years about the shortage of qualified American job seekers. They (ubiquitous) have been pushing Congress to raise the cap on the number of H-1B visas granted each year. The current cap of 65,000, set by Congress in 1990, was raised to 195,000 from 2001-2003. It wasn't until 1997 that the number of applications exceeded the H1B cap, according to USCIS spokesperson Marie Sebrechts. On April 2, the first day for applying for visas for fiscal 2008, the USCIS received more than 130,000 applications, forcing the agency - for the first time - to put all applications into a computer-generated selection process similar to a lottery.
American-born workers do not seem to be rushing to gain the skills that technology companies want.( and why would that be?) Only about 13 percent of graduate degrees awarded in the U.S. are science degrees, according to the most recent numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d05/tables/dt05_405.asp?referrer=report). And foreign nationals make up about 60 percent of the Ph.D.s in computer science and engineering coming out of U.S. colleges, according to an analysis of education statistics by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (aaas.org).
Across the tech industry, the inability to hire qualified non-citizens is beginning to pinch. One-third of private, venture capital-backed companies surveyed by the National Foundation for American Policy (nfap.com) for the National Venture Capital Association (nvca.org) last November said the lack of visas had influenced their decision to place more personnel in facilities abroad. (the old threat ... but they are going to do this anyway ... why bring the person here if the same person can do the job just as well overseas for 1/3rd the cost ?) Among respondents using H1-B visas, nearly 40 percent said the cap has "negatively impacted their company when competing against other firms globally." (they need some excuse for not succeeding to their own hype )
Hardest hit by the cap may be the nation's small businesses, which often don't have the resources to open up satellite operations in places such as India and China, where they could hire skilled technical workers, says Russell Swapp, a Boston-based partner who heads the national immigration team at law firm Seyfarth Shaw (http://www.seyfarth.com). "I have smaller clients who have been unable to meet their hiring targets because of the cap and feel they are being competitively crippled," he says. (quoting an immigration lawyer , obviously unbiased . And complaining for the mom-n-pop small businesses , those small 5 person computer firms that need to get overseas people! Why don't they find out how many of these workers are actually working for small businesses now , after the last 15 years of the program)
Foreign-born engineers and computer scientists have been critical to growth and innovation in the U.S., according to a study by The Kauffman Foundation (kauffman.org), Duke University, New York University and Harvard. The study estimates that immigrants founded one in four of the engineering and technology companies created between 1995 and 2005. By 2006, these companies were employing 450,000 workers and generating $52 billion in revenue, according to the researchers. "These [founders] are often true innovators and own the intellectual property on which companies are based," says Swapp. "These aren't fungible positions." ( a net gain for the US ?? ... were these 450,000 workers American ? or more H-1B workers or workers actually working overseas for the parent 'US' firm ? another couple of simple questions to ask ... also there are perhaps a million or more high-tech immigrants in US and they only created 25% of the new companies ? ... the vast majority of these new companies were created not by the workers but by graduate students at universities, not workers brought in via H-1B)
This summer, hope for raising the cap evaporated when Congress failed to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill in late June, which included a provision to increase the number of H1B visas to 115,000. A senior House aide familiar with the H-1B issue said House leaders are now in the process of "trying to figure out what parts of immigration reform can move forward with support." On the Senate side, Charles Schumer of New York, Maria Cantwell of Washington State and other democrats and republicans "are working on legislation to reform the H1B system," says a spokesperson in Schumer's office. And President Bush has repeatedly said he wants Congress to raise the cap. (George 'open borders' Bush)