The H-1B Debate: Beneath The Policy, The Personal - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // IT Strategy
Commentary
6/18/2007
02:20 PM
Alice LaPlante
Alice LaPlante
Commentary
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The H-1B Debate: Beneath The Policy, The Personal

I've spent the last few weeks researching an article on H-1B visas, and it's been both illuminating and painful to dig underneath the press releases of high-tech firms, lobbying groups, and politicians and talk to the individuals directly affected by how many H-1B visas are issued -- and how many of those guest workers actually get green cards.

I've spent the last few weeks researching an article on H-1B visas, and it's been both illuminating and painful to dig underneath the press releases of high-tech firms, lobbying groups, and politicians and talk to the individuals directly affected by how many H-1B visas are issued -- and how many of those guest workers actually get green cards.Although admittedly anecdotal, I keep hearing two things: first, that older IT workers, even those who have kept their skills up to date, or are clearly competent to acquire new ones, are getting the shaft in favor of younger workers. And when employers run out of young U.S. citizens to hire, they turn to the (on average) very young H-1B visa holders before they'll look at the seasoned 45-year-old Americans.

Secondly, many foreign H-1B holders are feeling a vicious backlash as the trend toward outsourcing continues, and as technology companies keep issuing their dire warnings that without more H-1Bs they'll have to send more jobs offshore. Actually, H-1B holders -- the majority of whom are Indian -- get hit with a double whammy: not only do they, on average, get paid less than their American citizen counterparts, they are often very personally blamed for keeping IT salaries artificially depressed due to what many claim is an oversaturated IT labor market. "It's gotten very ugly very fast," one H-1B holder told me.

Ugly indeed. My head is reeling from all the government testimony, analyst reports, and academic studies that have been done on this topic. But very little seems new other than the steadily increasing acrimony of participants on both sides of this debate, which has been dragging on for years.

My feature won't be published for a few weeks, and I'd be interested in hearing from you before I file it. What's your personal experience with the H-1B visa program? Do you think we really need to raise the cap to continue innovating? Or is that a smokescreen for companies seeking cheap labor? Let us know your thoughts by replying to the InformationWeek blog.

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