Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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4/4/2006
10:41 AM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
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U.S. Needs More H-1B Workers Or More Offshore Outsourcing: Take Your Pick

As Congress considers a massive expansion of the H-1B visa worker program, opponents of the plan should consider this: Failure by federal lawmakers to allow more skilled IT workers into the country will result in more U.S. corporations simply outsourcing their computer work to India or some other offshore locale where skilled help is plentiful and cheap. Is that what you really want?

As Congress considers a massive expansion of the H-1B visa worker program, opponents of the plan should consider this: Failure by federal lawmakers to allow more skilled IT workers into the country will result in more U.S. corporations simply outsourcing their computer work to India or some other offshore locale where skilled help is plentiful and cheap. Is that what you really want?The equation is pretty simple. The U.S. is facing a shortage of IT workers that will only get worse over time as boomers retire. Meanwhile, emerging countries like India and China will continue to enjoy large surpluses of such workers for the foreseeable future. So we can either bring those workers here, or send our IT jobs overseas. Those are the two options.

Training more U.S.-born tech workers would be a great third option, but unfortunately most graduates of U.S. high schools aren't remotely prepared for college-level math, and only 5% of U.S. college undergrads are currently pursuing degrees in science or engineering. Until all that changes, no third option.

So here we are. Great American companies like Microsoft and IBM will continue to expand operations in India and China rather than invest domestically because they have little choice. What's the point of building new tech centers in Washington State, Texas, or upstate New York if there's no one to staff them? At any given time, Microsoft has 3,500 to 4,500 open positions in the U.S. that go unfilled due to a shortage of qualified candidates.

As Congress considers an expansion of the H-1B program--doubling the current cap of 65,000 is one possibility on the table--those opposed should carefully consider the consequences of their position. Restrictions on the import of skilled IT workers into the U.S. will increase the rate at which U.S. corporations export those jobs. And once exported, to quote global economist Bruce Springsteen, "These jobs are going, boys, and they ain't coming back."

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