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The Unending H1B Saga

August 06, 2007

Jack Ganssle-August 06, 2007

Like tossing a lit cigarette out the window onto a bit of dry California brush, some subjects are consistently inflammatory for engineers. If career issues always spark excited commentary, discussion about H-1B visas are like pouring gasoline on a wildfire.

The ACM and IEEE claim that enrollments in CS and EE curricula are falling precipitously. Yet readers respond that those organizations are fronts for industry; that cries of looming shortages are the tools of fat-cat employers to flood the market with cheap imported labor and drive salaries down. Is that paranoia, or does it show a firm grasp of market dynamics?

Others respond that any idiot can see there's no shortage. "Just look at all of the unemployed engineers I know!" Unemployed friends and relatives make for powerful personal imagery, but just as a single cold or hot day says nothing meaningful about the global warming shoutfest, local and personal anecdotes are tragic but not statistically-significant. The IEEE says there's practically full employment, but those who think they're a shill for industry won't believe them.

What about salaries? Simple supply and demand mandates that a shortage will be accompanied by rising salaries, which recent surveys suggest merely mirror cost of living increases, if that. The paranoid - or, maybe those with that firm grasp of market dynamics - will note that recent increases in H-1B visas could be controlling salary increases. As will exporting work to low-wage countries, a trend that certainly continues to grow.

Data is abundant but is shaded with agendas. I tend to believe some of the IEEE/ACM data about college enrollments since it correlates with much I hear from those in academia. It appears " to me, at least - that there will be a negative bubble of engineers and computer scientists in the near future as we start to graduate plenty of hamburger-flippers but fewer EE and CS people.

But is there a shortage today? I think the evidence for that is sparse. However, there's little doubt that many companies are lobbying Congress to expand the H-1B visa program, either to fulfill what they perceive is a very real need, or to drive down engineering costs.

One of the best summaries of myths and facts surrounding the H-1B program appeared recently in Information Week. For instance, did you know that about a third of Microsoft's US workers are here under some sort of visa assistance? Or that slime-sucking legal firms offer programs teaching employers how to manipulate the law to avoid hiring those pesky taxpaying US citizens (see youTube video)?

This marvelous country has traditionally embraced new citizens from all corners of the world, enriching our culture beyond measure. Most of us come from immigrant families, whether recently or generations ago. But we cannot allow immigration policy to be dictated by corporate greed rather than an ethical standard that balances the many tradeoffs.

I'd sure like to see an H-1B debate that's grounded, first, in what's best for the national interest, and that secondly addresses near-term practical issues. Actually, that would be a nice way to frame any of the myriad issues facing Congress. Instead, we can be sure that they will continue to do anything that courts big donors and panders to the (often manufactured) fears of the electorate.

What do you think? Is there a genuine shortage of engineers in the US or are companies manipulating Congress to get cheaper labor?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at jack@ganssle.com. His website is www.ganssle.com.


Not all engineers are employable - there are good engineers, and then there are bad engineers (I know, I have worked with some of them). For this reason alone, we will never have 100% employment in our field.

- B Brown


Dear Jack,

What you say may be 100% true and correct. but I personally consider you as a Guru, as a Global Pool of knowledge, which crosses national boundaries. Jack, you are like a artist, a poet, someone who creates and thinks globally.

I can't imagine you, restricting yourself to thoughts with country boundaries. At least not in this column.

- Nakul Srivathsa


I believe we now operate in a global Earth.

If US wants to keep being the technology leader, companies have to hire the best minds regardless of nationality. Isn't that what's made US in the past?

Other countries have already realized this like Canada and UK and make it very easy to hire qualified foreigners. Look at how Microsoft has opened a big office in Vancouver now, just to bring over employees that they can't get visas for.

US should start thinking about the long term.

- C orsan


From a european perspective we face a similar scenario in engineering. Outsourcing happens widely to whatever country has young, willing and cheap professionals on offer - often regardless of the cultural and political circumstances - let alone that technical knowledge often only exists on paper there. Further, local industries are crying because they fail to offer a future to young local entrants into engineering and want to get more "immigrants", instead. But, current German law for example mandates that candidates should be offered jobs valued at 85.000 Euros or more, which hardly allows any non-managerial offerings to be met. While many european countries not have the immigrants-embracing culture of the US, our local industries seem very motivated to get cheap labor rather than local talent.

- Bernhard Kockoth


Never have I seen this big divide between "them" and "us". Great wealth now means: find a way to make more wealth even if it means destroying labor. The robber barons are back, and once again there are no constraints on them. A hundred years ago new labor laws and things like the SEC were formed to even the playing field. Today I see no interest in, and no real discussion of, these issues in Congress. The pendulum WILL swing back, but it may mean the researgence of unions.

- Anonymous


I work in a company that has 7 H1-B visa people all with pHD's, but who have no practical experience. I have 3 MAster's in Chem Engr, Comp Sci, and Elec Engr and am paid Less than they are. Even though i have 15 years experience in R&D, and Development.

I have to solve their messes because they won't, they are better than Me they have a PhD.

If I could work elsewhere I would, but in this community outside of Scramento there are very few companies hiring, beecause the economy here is stagnant. In this area, we have 3 hi-tech companies that produce Video Equipment. We have 5 compnaies in driving distance 50 Miles, that include HP, and web based companies. None Are hiring. There are way way to many H1-B's. I know Their salaries since Law requires that the salaries be posted in a public location for a set period of time, and I looked. They are being 80 - 90 K per year.

The main reason the CTO hired them is he was an H1-B visa holder himself, until he finally got permanent status, and all of his colleagues form his colleges are now hired by him. That's right just another form of cronism. All the caucasians here in the company were fired by this guy within a week, before he brought in all this new talent. So 5 software engineers were shown the door so these young people who have little or no expereince could take their place. The only reason I have not been fired, is that I know, live and breathe DICOM. A protocol for MEdical Equipment.

If I had my way, There would be no loopholes in the H1-B laws, and there would be a requirement that all prople not born in the USA would return to their country of origin before obtaining any kind of job here in the USA.

- Herman Munster


I would like to put my 2 cents in on the H1-b issue. First and foremost the corporate giants are absolutely forcing the degreed American engineer to work for nothing, while the "corporation" makes an enormous profit and puts out a less than quality product. Which, should I mention, is ultimately at the expense of the American consumer and the American worker. After-all if they unemployed all of us who exactly do they think is going to buy their crappy product?

Regarding the topic of less students going into engineering. Here is where I see currently, As a staffing agent in the embedded engineering space, we find in order to place American engineers at "market" rate, we have had to migrate away from straight software development in the commercial space and concentrate more in hardware design and systems engineering. In order to place an American software developer at a reasonable rate we find it is only in the military space, we not forced to compete with the off-shoring and H1-B marketplace.

An issue that once faced only the blue collar worker (NAFTA and all industrial jobs moving to Mexico) is now facing the white collar worker. Maybe now we will all start to care about the outsourcing of America. The H1-B program was never implemented to benefit the American worker or the American consumer. It has always been to pad the pockets of the large corporations, not so they can pass on the savings to us, but so they can rake in bigger profits and pay the top execs excessive salaries. At what point are we the consumer going to stay enough? At what point are we going to stop buying the products from the companies who are doing this?. Along with that at what point are we the VOTER going to quit putting politicians in office who are going along with it?

The H1-B program along with all outsourcing of American jobs is a bad idea,. Always has been, always will be.

- Michelle Cessnun


Its strange, whenever there is a crunch for a resource , man tends to make a negative cognition of his world , trying to see ...whom to blame. Like Herman mentioned Caucasians are targeted in his company and he thinks H1B is reason.

This is racism, this is in no way connected to H1B Visas. If you feel the management is racist , then u should file a case against it. This country has a strong Legal framework , which can help you.

Please do not convert labour issues into emotional racist issues. It will only encourage and justify hate crime.

In addition, there are certain things to be clarified.

1. H1B workers too pay taxes. I dont know the relative numbers in every state though.

2. There should be certain amount of protectionism for local jobs. The same is true for the local markets in all countries. Jobs, Movie industry, Fast-Food chains, Retail chains all need a certain amount of protectionism and hence we do find so much protest against UTO.

3. America is an immigrant nation, and getting the right kind of immigrant population has and will boost the American economy and Gene Pool in the long run.

4. The medical industry wants to make patients out of people and the Fast Food industry wants to make Gluts out of people similaly the Finance instituitions wants to make people to live on a rolling credit. It is these basic problems that you need to address for the future generation. To have a mentally , physically and spiritually strong generation.

5. This discussion does not deserve to be on embedded.com. But I thought since Jack had this perception and/or insecurity , we need to address this here. The last thing we need is an embedded Guru insecure of the industry.

- Sachin Panemangalore


People are being paid exactly what they are worth. At least in the (more or less) free private enterprise. Some people just do not want to accept it.

If someone does not like his salary he is free to take different job. If someone does not like the way his employer treats him he is free to open his own company and treat his own employees any way he likes (within the law...).

Last time I checked US was a free country, wasn't it?

- Yuriy K


If you want your company want to be a global ( in terms of selling your product ) then you need to have the cost advantage.

You can't sell a product in which is costly because it is manufactured/serviced in US. People will have alternative in terms of buying a locally manufactured item...

If you have restrict the people which you can hire then restrict yourself as a local national company.

- Anonymous


I am a US citizen who has been employed managing developers and developing software for almost 30 years. I have managed projects that were outsourced to India, used H1B people in the US and lost a job due to outsourcing. I am still working in software development. I just had to adapt.

I think we need to have a H1B program that allows for more developers to work in the US.

It is simple "

Global workforce is here. Deal with it. It is impossible to change this basic fact.

Do you want the entire project to go offshore? With all of US jobs, taxes, local impact to the economy? Remember if the company moves the project offshore everything goes with it " dev, test, doc, management. This also includes all of the project domain knowledge and experience.

Do you want to have a chance at the job and compete in US style " let the person best qualified and who wants the job the most win?

It is simple " the more developers we allow to work here, the more money that stays local.

- US Citizen


I think the discussion is out of focus. Immigration is a hot topic and people get easily worked up by it. It can easily turn into an argument about Mexicans crossing the border with AZ or H1B workers in the US. We have to see the forest for the threes. These are only the symptoms of a system that is completely broken. You see families split for years on end waiting for their paperwork to be processed. You see cases of documents being lost or misrouted throwing immigration cases into complete disarray. Interestingly enough, when I talk to Americans about these problems they seem to think that it is OK. After all, all these problems are discouraging people from coming here, right? Yes, that is correct but there is also the other side of the coin. Because the system is broken, there are many loopholes in it. It is usually the case that you can get things done easier if you take advantage of the loopholes rather than try to follow the book. These problems hurt Americans as well. It means that many of the people coming in here may not be necessarily the best we could attract but simply the ones who are willing to pay a good attorney and take advantage of these loopholes. The US needs to reform the whole immigration system from the ground up. Let's not tackle the symptoms. We need to attack the disease.

- Estonian Dude


H1-B allows the USA to hire the best and brightest engineers and keep building our technology base.

It's a difficult reality, but I'd rather have the best and brightest competing for jobs here rather than in another country.

- Steve K


I suspect we are being conned again. I doubt if here is a shortage of engineers in this county.

I am a 77 year old chemist, so I have no ax to grind in the current H1B Visa debate, other than my own experience in the US job market. I was a senior in college when Russia flew the first Sputnik. suddenly there was a major shortage of all scientists in the US so we started importing technical people. In those days I saw them coming mostly form England and the rest of western Europe. By the time I got my Ph. D. in 1964 it was obvious to me that no shortage of chemists existed in the county even though the American Chemical Society (ACS) still claimed there was. The ACS has always been dominated by academia, even though the majority of their membership has always come from industry. In the 1970's, the so called /shortage of chemists /became so bad that I knew college professors who were advocating that industry require that industrial chemists be allowed to work as chemists for a maximum of 10 years. At that point industrial chemists would be required to go into support jobs such as sales. This would allow posts docs in universities to take the industrial jobs thus freeing up positions in schools so that more foreign post docs could be brought into this country. Still the ACS was crying about a shortage of chemists in this country.

Now even the ACS will admit there is not now nor never has been a shortage of chemists in this county. They won't admit it but the whole story was cooked up by greedy university professors to bring in more foreign post docs into an already overloaded US job market. This was fine with industry, because it lowered the price of labor in this county.

When I was 56 years old, with three kids in college, the company I worked for all but went out of business and my job was eliminated. I was a magnetic resonance spectrocopist. Although I was at the top of my profession I was completely unemployable. I started a consulting business mostly through Small Business Innovative Research grants though agencies such as DOD, NSF, and the National Academy of Sciences. I did well in the consulting business, although as you probably know, it is very competitive.

You have to ask yourself how I could compete in a very hard consulting business and not be able to find a job. The answer is, of course, the job market for chemists in this country was saturated by cheap foreign labor and industry looks upon scientists, and I am sure engineers, as a commodity. The reason universities can't attract more math and science students is that they are demanding majors and, more importantly, job opportunities in these fields are not as good as some others that require much less effort. Yet, we still import foreign post docs and H1-B visa holders.

In my day a young working class person could use the GI Bill to go to a first class university, become educated in the sciences or engineering, and work their way into the upper middle class. Sadly our own universities and federal government are doing their best to cut off this path to the American dream for are own people while they promote that dream for people from other countries. The day will come when we all realize how the middle class in this country is being destroyed by our own mis-guided policies.

- Robert M. Pearson Ph. D.

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