Why Tech Companies Really Hire H-1B Workers - InformationWeek
IoT
IoT
Software // Information Management
Commentary
7/1/2008
10:37 AM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
Commentary
50%
50%
RELATED EVENTS
Faster, More Effective Response With Threat Intelligence & Orchestration Playboo
Aug 31, 2017
Finding ways to increase speed, accuracy, and efficiency when responding to threats should be the ...Read More>>

Why Tech Companies Really Hire H-1B Workers

The H-1B program puts American workers at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis the visa holders, but low-ball salaries aren't the reason. Or, at least, not the biggest reason.

The H-1B program puts American workers at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis the visa holders, but low-ball salaries aren't the reason. Or, at least, not the biggest reason.My colleague Alex Wolfe blogged yesterday about reforming the H-1B program to ensure that its wage parity rules are strictly enforced.

Alex argued that such a reform would eliminate the incentive for companies to bring in boatloads of cheap tech labor from India and other countries at the expense of U.S. programmers and engineers. As a result, Congress could eliminate the current cap on H-1Bs and leave the free market to determine how many foreign techies arrive on these shores each year.

That sounds like a reasonable proposal, but I'm not convinced that it's the wage issue that makes the H-1B program unfair to Americans.

The "prevailing wage" rules are difficult, though not impossible, for employers to skirt. In applying for permission to hire an H-1B worker, employers must state the job description, the salary, and provide to the government third-party evidence that the proposed wages are in line with industry standards.

The employer also must post a copy of the application at the job site, in a conspicuous area where it will be visible to anyone who wants to see it. If a company is low-balling H-1Bs, someone is going to spot it and blow the whistle -- there's enough disgruntled U.S. workers out there to make that a certainty.

Here, in my mind, is what's really wrong with the H-1B rules, and why they're unfair to both U.S. workers and the foreigners: An H-1B holder is, for all practical purposes, bound to the company that sponsored his or her visa.

Sure, they can switch jobs by applying for a new visa once here, but that's expensive, time consuming, and risky. And time spent on the current visa would count against the new H-1B. So for all intents and purposes, an H-1B worker is indentured to his employer for the life of the visa. That's up to six years if the one-time renewal option is exercised.

Who would you rather hire if you're an employer in a hotly competitive labor market like the tech industry? A highly skilled individual who might hang around for a year or so, acquiring even more skills at your expense, before bolting for more money elsewhere?

Or, a highly skilled worker who, once hired, has to stick around for at least six years?

Obvious, isn't it? In fact, the latter scenario is so appealing to tech companies that they might be willing to offer a higher salary up front to the H-1B worker, knowing that individual won't be going anywhere soon and won't be in a position to ask for a raise later on.

To make the H-1B program fair, Congress needs to make the visa specific to the individual worker, rather than the company. If H-1B workers have full job mobility once here, their appeal to tech vendors might decrease drastically.

Or not.

If there really is a shortage of tech workers, then demand for H-1Bs wouldn't change much. Then we can move to step 2 of Alex's proposal -- eliminate the numeric caps and let market forces take over, and may the best programmer win.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
IT Strategies to Conquer the Cloud
Chances are your organization is adopting cloud computing in one way or another -- or in multiple ways. Understanding the skills you need and how cloud affects IT operations and networking will help you adapt.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll