Google Pitch For Lifting H-1B Visa Limits Heralds 'In-Sourcing' Surge - InformationWeek

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6/7/2007
05:07 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Google Pitch For Lifting H-1B Visa Limits Heralds 'In-Sourcing' Surge

Having winnowed the domestic pool of highly experienced IT and engineering talent by hounding thousands out of the business through years of layoffs and false complaints about the math-smarts of American students, big business has hit on the latest tack for controlling high-tech labor costs: In-source the jobs it was previously outsourcing, by getting the government to lift the cap on H-1B visas.

Having winnowed the domestic pool of highly experienced IT and engineering talent by hounding thousands out of the business through years of layoffs and false complaints about the math-smarts of American students, big business has hit on the latest tack for controlling high-tech labor costs: In-source the jobs it was previously outsourcing, by getting the government to lift the cap on H-1B visas.I don't blame Google, whose co-founder Sergey Brin called on Congress to lift the current annual cap of 65,000 H-1B visas. For one thing, Google is only looking out for its own business interests. Of all the companies who can claim the need for esoteric skills which probably can't be satisfied solely out of the U.S.-born labor pool, Google fits the bill. Besides, Brin, as the son of parents who emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1979, has an understandable identification with foreigners who want to contribute their skills to our economy and our society.

Rather, I blame Bill Gates, who told Congress in March that "U.S. leadership in global technology is at stake if the government does not allow American companies to hire more than the 65,000 foreign professionals currently permitted to work here under the H-1B visa program." That's hyperbolic, to say the least.

Even more than Gates, I take issue with the hot air that's been spouted endlessly by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. For some reason, people accept as gospel Friedman's frequent take-downs of U.S. math and science education, absent any serious credentials which would give him authority to speak on the subject.

Here's a typical Friedman quote, from a Dec. 5, 2004, column:

"We are facing a mounting crisis in science and engineering education. . . because of the steady erosion of science, math, and engineering education in U.S. high schools, our Cold War-generation of American scientists is not being fully replenished."

The implication is that there aren't enough kids going into engineering because it's too tough. No, Tom, it's because wages are under relentless pressure from outsourcing, there's no job security, the working conditions stink, and a smart kid can do better by going to law school.

But it's the not-smart-enough stuff (delivered, ironically, by a guy who was probably not smart enough to pass engineering-school math) that sticks, and stings. Funny, the guys (it was mostly guys back then, unfortunately) with whom I graduated Cooper Union in 1979 managed to make their way through AP calculus in New York area high schools and, since that time, haven't caused any bridges to buckle or rockets to reverse course, at least as far as I know. What engineering school did Friedman attend?

I found it amusingly ironic that Friedman delivered the commencement address to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's 2007 graduation class, given that he's done so much to undercut the average person's perception of the abilities of the people before whom he spoke.

But back to the H-1B issue. Why am I so darned Lou Dobbs angry? Because before I was a reporter, I worked as an engineer, and I know American born engineers and computer scientists are second to none.

Believe me, it's not anti-foreign sentiment that's fueling this post. (Here's an intelligent opinion piece by a woman of Indian descent arguing from a pro-H-1B point of view.) It's simply that feeding one's family has to come ahead of globalism. (Friedman doesn't need to worry about that because he's rich.)

To those who disagree with me, I would ask: Is it xenophobic or anti-foreign to say that this country should be less quick to throw its own workers over the side before we rush to import ever-greater numbers of non-citizens to take high paying (but less high paying than before) tech jobs? If you really believe that, you're simply not interested in arguing the merits of the case.

The fact is, the pool of U.S. IT workers would be a lot denser than it currently is if business hadn't been layoff-crazed these past 10 years. If you're telling me U.S. firms can't compete globally if they have to pay a living Stateside wage, you're probably correct. But that's a very, very different argument from saying that Americans are inadequate at math.

Somehow, people born and living in India are just as nuts about celebrity culture (it's called "Bollywood" over there) as we are about Britney and Paris, but it doesn't seem to have stunted their math-learning capabilities. So what are the Gateses and Friedmans saying, that Americans are inherently stupid? I don't buy that.

More importantly, I would argue that it's in the long-term best self-interest of companies doing business in the United States to have a decently paid domestic workforce. Remember, there are only so many jobs in the upper-executive ranks. If American business wants to continue to have business, they're going to have to support a base of middle-class workers with enough income to buy what they're selling. Hopefully, they'll figure this out before it's too late.

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