Snippets from an email exchange about the H-1B visa program, edited and paraphrased for length and suitability:
Correspondent: Have you ever weighed in on the H-1B Visa concern that bedevils American IT workers? If not, why not?
Bob: It’s a complex topic I know far too little about to express a useful opinion. As someone once said, better to remain silent and have people think I’m a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
Correspondent: I urge you then to please do research the subject and then speak out, hopefully in favor of the American citizen IT worker. I fear if outsourcing continues this may inadvertently decimate the pool of available native STEM workers who may avoid pursuing STEM professions due to frustration, leaving it to cheaper non-immigrants.
Bob: I’ll think about taking it on, but I won’t promise anything (no, that isn’t ManagementSpeak for “No”).
Correspondent: More likely, it’s that you know who butters your bread, Bob. That’s right, management. And management is about profit for themselves and shareholders at anyone else’s expense, including the indentured servant Indians who suffer under near slave conditions; and your friends, neighbors, and possibly relative American citizens against whom you choose to be, shall we say, less than a champion.
Look in the mirror, buddy. You won’t like the cowardice you see. ^*&# you and your 1% crowd.
In case you haven’t heard of it, “The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa in the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act, section 101(a)(17)(H). It allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.”
Here’s what I, in my own, cowardly way, know, suspect, and conjecture about the H-1B program, divided into two parts: Public policy, and management decision-making.
Public policy first
I don’t generally do public policy, because KJR’s raison d’etre (pardon my French) is to give you something you can put to immediate practical use. Opining on public policy doesn’t achieve this.
Because I know too little about the subject to share a Strongly Held Opinion, I won’t. Instead, here are a few points to consider as you form your own:
- Near-slave conditions? This is like calling your preferred political villain a Nazi. Slavery, and Nazi-ism, are far too deplorable to trivialize.
- Econ 101: Worker visa programs are all a form of protectionism. In this case it’s the labor marketplace that’s being protected. The extent you favor or dis-favor the H-1B program probably depends on your views about protectionist economic policy.
- Business ethics: Is the H-1B program immoral? I can’t personally come up with an ethical framework that makes hardworking foreigners less deserving of employment than hardworking U.S. citizens, other than the moral logic of protectionism — see previous bullet. From a moral perspective one might, in fact, plausibly argue that managerial hiring decisions should be purely meritocratic, entirely ignoring citizenship.
- Recruiting goals: Well-managed organizations recruit the most talented individuals they can attract. Including H-1B workers expands the talent pool employers have to draw on, improving their prospects for doing so.
- Unintended consequences: To the extent an employer wants to minimize IT labor rates, reducing or eliminating the number of H-1B visas issued would simply move the work offshore instead of moving the workers on-shore. If the work is on-shore, at least that means worker wages are spent here in the U.S.A.
- Supply and demand: IT unemployment is, right now, very low (~3.9%), so demand exceeds supply. This explains at least some of the industry demand for H-1B workers. Reduced labor costs explain most of the rest.
Practical, immediately useful advice
For IT managers: If you’d rather employ U.S. citizens than foreign IT professionals, embrace Agile. While colleagues of mine tell me offshore Agile is possible, there’s near-unanimous consensus among the Agile experts I know that team proximity matters, and matters a lot more than when using Waterfall application development methods. Having the team all in one place makes everything easier than when team members interact across multiple time zones and through purely electronic media.
For IT professionals: Recognize that you’re in business for yourself, and that what you can do for an employer constitutes the products and services your business has to sell.
Any time and energy you spend complaining about how unfair it all is is time and energy you aren’t spending making yourself more competitive. (Hint: Embrace Agile. Smart IT managers are looking for Scrum-worthy developers.)
H-1B workers are your business rivals. Your job is to figure out how to out-compete them.