Unsettled Workers on This Side of the H-1B Fence

By Deb Perelman  |  Posted 2007-09-06 Print this article Print

The last several bits of H-1B news that have trickled across the wire have seemed, at least on the surface, to be good things for IT professionals.

In late June, the immigration bill went up in flames, taking with it a provision to raise the set cap on the skilled worker visas. A few days prior, a video in which an immigration law firm offered advice to companies on how to avoid hiring U.S. worker for a job set aside for a H-1B workers set off a firestorm of criticism last week, drawing the attention and ire of a U.S. senator and congressman, who called it a "blatant disregard for American workers."

In early June, Patni Computer Systems, an Indian outsourcing firm, agreed to pay more than 600 H-1B visa holders over $2.4 million in back wages, a sign that lawmakers were going after illegal wage advantages given to foreign workers, which hurt U.S. workers.

In April, a bill introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), put the onus on employers to prove that they had gone to lengths to ensure that an H-1B visa holder would not be displacing a prospective U.S. employee.

Most recently, our Washington reporter concludes that the odds of the current Congress upping the limit on H-1B visas are slim-to-none, much to the chagrin of the tech employers who have long lobbied for an increase.

So why aren't IT professionals sighing with relief that the threat of losing their jobs to even more foreign workers is behind them?

Quite simply, it's because it's not. Fed up with U.S. immigration hurdles, Microsoft announced plans on July 5 to open a software development center in Vancouver, British Columbia, that it hoped will "be home to software developers from around the world."

Six weeks later, the company leaked that it has been so swarmed with applicants from foreign workers who were unable to obtain H-1B visas that staffing the facility has actually "worn out" their HR team.

Not only is Microsoft announcing that if Congress doesn't do more to help them employ foreign workers that it will simply take its development offshore, this move is also expected to be watched and inevitably mimicked by other large tech employers whose lobbying efforts have failed.

Meanwhile, keeping America "globally competitive"—in part, by letting more foreign workers through the gates—has become a rallying cry in the upcoming presidential lobbying season.

Politicians promising to keep the United States open to foreign competition are pitted against U.S. IT and engineering professionals who fear having their wages depressed and their job opportunities limited by a competitive job market.

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