Not the Desperation
Not the Desperation For their part, technology industry lobbying groups said theyve gone quiet on H-1B because the depressed economy has reduced the need for hiring all IT workersnatives and H-1B holders alike."Its a lot less of a hot topic than it used to be," said Rick White, CEO of TechNet, in Palo Alto, Calif., which represents 230 tech-related companies. "Theres not the desperation. The industrys still supportive of [H-1B], but it was a totally different world a couple years ago. Now, there hasnt been any pressure to focus on it."Indeed, many tech companies have rendered the H-1B issue moot by implementing hiring freezes and cutting back severely on filing H-1B visa applications. (
Click Here for chart on H-1B usage.)
Hewlett-Packard Co., its hands full with both its merger with Compaq Computer Corp. and the stubbornly slow economy, is one such company. It filed 144 H-1B visa request documents in 2000, 105 last year and none to date this year. "Nobody in the industry is commenting on H-1B," said Larry Estrada, HP government affairs manager, in Palo Alto. "Its tied to the economy. If you have a hiring freeze, youre not going to be as concerned with seeing how you can add on expertise."
Still, WashTechs Courtney doesnt trust the relative quiet. "Even now, with the recession going on and hundreds of thousands of tech employees out of work, the [pro-H-1B-increase] lobby is still very effective in making its case to members of Congress in that this program is still required because the American educational system has failed to fill the types of jobs required," said Courtney.
Courtney said he fears politicians will be open to that argument because many havent given up on the dot-com-era fantasy that technology would be a bottomless source of high-paying jobs. "Theres still unrealistic expectations by the leadershipby politiciansregarding what the IT industry will deliver in terms of job creation and growth," he said. "Our political leaders drank so much of the New Economy Kool-Aid, theyre not willing to say, Man, maybe we need to try a different flavor here."
Besides, to WashTech organizers, H-1B is just one component of a cluster of issues that are undermining IT pay and job security, including escalating offshore outsourcing and increasing reliance by employers on temporary workers.
"We [fear] that IT is like manufacturing was 20 years ago: on the brink of leaving the borders," said Roberta Wilson, WashTech union secretary, in Bainbridge Island, Wash. "There will always be IT jobs, but a big chunk of them could leave. Whether thats a brilliant idea or the worst possible idea is hard to say, but for sure, workers are not part of this dialogue, and their interests are not on the top of this list."
IT Careers Managing Editor Lisa Vaas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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