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11/21/2001
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IT Confidential

"Why don't we replace corporate CEOs with [foreigners] on the H-1B visa program? Hey, they'd save millions of dollars!"

My Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition defines xenophobia as "fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign." Does this sound like xenophobia? "Everyone talks about the security of the Homeland, and now I find out that the majority of the software that runs my telephone is developed and supported from India, where they could damage or place a bug into the code unknowingly." How about this? "As an IT worker working in New York and traveling to work on the train every day, I can't believe the number of Indians on the train traveling in groups of two and three and coming from IT jobs in the city." Or this? "How are we supposed to tell the difference between a legitimate [H-1B] visa person and a terrorist? The answer--you can't." These are some of the responses I received to an item in this column last week suggesting that the Independent Computer Consultants Association's call to abolish the H-1B visa program, which lets companies to sponsor foreign workers--primarily technology workers--in the United States, was tinged with just a hint of you-know-what. These are serious responses, and the frustration they express is palpable. But we need to beware of an insidious paranoia and to keep the discussion of the controversial H-1B program at an objective and rational level.

For the record, the Immigration and Naturalization Service announced earlier this month that it had approved 163,200 H-1B visa petitions against the cap of 195,000 for fiscal year 2001, which ended Sept. 30. Also, at the end of the fiscal year there were approximately 29,000 petitions pending that, if approved, would be recorded against the 2002 cap of 195,000. That means, if those pending visas had been approved this year, it would have put the total number of H1-B workers allowed into the country right at the limit.

A little salt for those wounds? Next week, the Information Technology Association Of America, which claims there are more than 400,000 unfilled IT jobs in the United States and is an active proponent of the H-1B program, is sponsoring a half-day conference called "Outlook for the IT Services Sector: Offshore Development." The program, co-sponsored by the New York Society of Security Analysts and the National Investor Relations Institute, features market analysts and IT services execs in "a candid discussion about the investment and market prospects for offshore IT services in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the international war on terrorism."

When Vanguard Group CIO Bob DiStefano died of a heart attack this summer at the age of 52, it left a technology-management vacuum at the country's second-largest mutual fund company. Stepping into that gap will be Tim Buckley, whose most recent job at Vanguard was head of Web services. Buckley doesn't have the CIO title yet, but he's reporting directly to chairman and CEO John Brennan, who keeps a very close eye on the IT operation. Buckley joined Vanguard fresh out of Harvard 10 years ago as an assistant to founder John Bogle. One of Vanguard's prime directives is a thorough understanding of business goals by IT, and Buckley's background fits the bill--in addition to several business-side management jobs, he has an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Chief security officer will be one of the hottest job openings next year, according to executive search firm Christian & Timbers in Cleveland, which reports a steady increase in inquiries from companies seeking qualified candidates for that position. Since Sept. 11, "corporations are scrambling to assess their organizations and take appropriate action to thwart security risks that have gone well beyond a computer virus, fraud, and theft," CEO Jeffery Christian says. CSOs are responsible for protecting physical plants, intellectual property, and employees. Strong candidates have intelligence backgrounds or work in federal agencies, he adds, along with domestic and international security experience.

Let's see, I have a protective urge, a poker face, and a natural tendency to pry into other people's business--can I get a recommendation from anyone? Or how about an industry tip? Send it to jsoat@cmp.com or phone 516-562-5326. Want to talk about the H-1B visa program, hot job openings,or security risks? Meet me at InformationWeek.com's Listening Post: informationweek.com/forum/johnsoat.

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