Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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11/21/2006
03:24 PM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
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Over Thanksgiving Feasts, Frustrated Immigrants Will Mull Pilgrimages To More Welcoming Shores

It's the most American of holiday seasons, and Biju Alex is living the American dream. On Thursday, the 37-year-old chemist will dine with his family on turkey and all the fixings at their expensive home in an idyllic suburb north of Cincinnati. But Alex isn't an American--he's from India. And he says a broken immigration system has him on the verge of packing up--hi-tech skills and all--and leaving the U.S. for good.

It's the most American of holiday seasons, and Biju Alex is living the American dream. On Thursday, the 37-year-old chemist will dine with his family on turkey and all the fixings at their expensive home in an idyllic suburb north of Cincinnati. But Alex isn't an American--he's from India. And he says a broken immigration system has him on the verge of packing up--hi-tech skills and all--and leaving the U.S. for good.Alex has for the past seven years worked at Eurand, a Vandalia, OH-based maker of drug delivery technologies--gel caps, tablets and the like. Alex helps Eurand develop taste masking systems for pills that don't go down so well. In fact, he holds a patent on a particularly effective technique. "This company brought me here, they wanted my technology," he says.

But some other company, in some other country, may soon be the beneficiary of Alex's knowledge and years of study at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. You see, Alex is in the U.S. on an H-1B visa that's well into overtime. His originally allotted six years have expired and he's now living year to year on temporary extensions. "It is too uncertain, I can't make plans to invest or start my own business," says Alex.

Alex has applied for a permanent green card, but with no relatives in the country he says the process could take years. "It's a painful situation, I have no advantage despite my education and experience," he says.

As a result of all this, Alex says he's considering job offers in Italy and Australia. Perhaps he'll end up working for a competitor of his current employer. "If the U.S. doesn't reform immigration so that skilled people can come here and work freely then American competitiveness is going to sink. Innovation here will suffer," says the native of Mumbai.

Alex isn't the only one who feels this way. "There is a flight of skilled immigrants to friendly shores," says Amit Gupta, of Immigration Voice. The lobby group is seeking a number of reforms to U.S. immigration rules, including expedited green card processing for skilled workers. Gupta notes that 80% of green cards issued by the U.S. are the result of family-based applications. "The current system is not rewarding skilled, legal immigrants," says Gupta.

In other words, a Romanian trash collector with a brother in Peoria will get a green card faster than a Mexican citizen with a Ph.D.

Such arguments from groups like Immigration Voice are hotly contested by organizations like the Programmers Guild, which represents American-born computer industry professionals. The Programmers Guild maintains that the H-1B program represents a way for U.S. companies to hire talent on the cheap, and kick American workers to the curb.

Alex's response: "I'm one of the highest paid individuals at my company." Come next Thanksgiving, Alex and his family might be spending that money elsewhere.

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