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H-1B Visa Debate Rages Like U.S. Economic Debate

Brian Watson over at CIO Insight has a nice little debate going on H-1B visas. H-1B visas are probably the single most hotly debated subjects in IT careers-land because of the perceived shrinkage of job opportunities and affect on IT salaries that H-1Bs create for domestic IT workers and the IT space.

The crux of the debate in Watson's post centers on one reader's view that he stands behind his hiring of H1-Bs for reasons many of you are not going to want to hear: They work harder for less dough.

That is obviously one person's managerial experience speaking and is entirely a valid thing to say (since it's his experience). The key is that U.S. businesses of all sizes want H-1B visas because the economics make sense, but does that make it right?

The paradox to me is that it feels like we are saying as a country that when knowledge workers become too pricey, then we need a way to lower the cost and market rates of IT jobs. Isn't the market supposed to bare this out? IT systems and IT labor can be costly. Skilled systems require skilled jobs that attract higher-paying salaries.

It's hard to blame the people who take the H-1B jobs. It's a huge salary opportunity for them and if the shoe was on the other cliched foot (and you lived in the Third World), many of you would take those gigs too. I know I would.

The challenge--like the raging debate going on in Washington right now about how to best keep the U.S. economy afloat--is that our leaders pitch and sign the kind of legislation that allowed for this to happen, and we let them. The other challenge in my estimation is that you have large companies within technology and otherwise consistently lobbying for these visas and fueling the IT labor-shortage mythology. If leaders buy in to it, then legislation like that becomes a reality. Remember, H-1Bs are not the only kind of visa out there... There are also L-1 visas.

I do not believe there is an overwhelming IT labor shortage, but I do know that application, database and security-centered jobs (SAP, Oracle, SOA, etc.) are hard to fill and in demand, and the salaries that can be found there are well-paid. I know it's not as easy as careers advisors can make it out to be ("retrain yourself," "stay on top of trends," blah blah blah), but it's hard to ignore the numbers for data professionals and SOA-related jobs. For more info on how to keep your salary high and skills in demand regardless of visas, check out the article: How to Jump an IT Pay Grade.

Check out Watson's post and weigh in. I know this is bound to stir up the spicy chili, clam chowder and crock pots of IT land, so don't be afraid to let it all fly.

Also, for a look at how one organization is consistently fighting the proponents of H-1B visas, read the Programmer's Guild blog. To see the proponents view, check out Compete America.