H-1B visas and your job - Embedded.com

H-1B visas and your job

At age 20 I found myself in Australia for the first time. Many sights, sounds and amazing experiences from that trip remain locked in my memory even now, 30 years later. But the biggest impression that amazing country left was how so many people of so many ethnicities lived and worked in relative peace. I'd come from the USA, the place I'd been taught was the “great melting pot” of the world. Yet Australia appeared far more diverse.

My great-grandparents arrived in the USA in the 1880s, young, broke, and with few marketable skills. Like millions of others who poured across these borders then, they were absorbed and changed by their new home. Their children achieved a 6th grade education; the next generation, my parents, earned college degrees and built a bit of middle-class success.

America's melting pot worked. Over the course of a couple of generations it morphed poor, non-English-speaking immigrants into the middle class backbone of the country.

Today many of those entrenched Americans, many of them highly educated hardware and software designers, are out of work. Techies are the hardest hit; the Department of Labor reported that first quarter unemployment for EEs was 7%, far above the national average of 5.8%. To my great surprise neither the war on terrorism nor the 2nd Gulf War have had much impact on hiring.

What happened to the jobs? Surely the stumbling economy is at least partly to blame. Could the H-1B program be another factor? There's no doubt, based on the many, many emails I get from disgruntled American workers, that EEs and firmware folk believe this to be the case. Many engineers think that H-1B visas, which allow foreign engineers to work for a period of time in the United States, are being used simply to reduce labor costs. If true, the law is a horrible disservice to the country's citizens.

On October 17, 2000, President Clinton signed the “American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act” which was strongly supported by the US high-tech industry. The bill included a big increase in the number of H-1B visas available every year, from 107,500 to 195,000. Pending cases from fiscal year 2000 were to be counted in the 2000 quota, so 195,000 new visas became immediately available for fiscal years 2001 to 2003. H-1B workers are admitted to the United States for three years, which may be extended to six. The H-1B category is intended primarily for “professional” workers like programmers, engineers, teachers, doctors, and physical therapists.

The employer must file a form with the Department of Labor in which they promise to pay the prevailing wage to the H-1B employee, and to pay the H-1B employee at least as much as U.S. workers doing the same job. Though the law specifically forbids using H-1B workers to either displace American employees or to undercut their salaries, an awful lot of indigenous workers feel they're being edged out by immigrants willing to work cheaper.

The law made a lot of sense when there were more openings than available employees. Today the converse is true yet H-1Bs are still in full swing. Is corporate America replacing our local work force with inexpensive foreigners?

It's just plain wrong to replace our skilled – and admittedly expensive – workers with cheaper imports. If the H-1B program is having this effect, it should be terminated immediately.

Worse is that the visa holders are expected to leave — the H-1B is a 3- to 6-year permit only. They come and then they go. There's no melting pot that embraces these smart folks and helps them become part of the national culture. H-1Bs mirror the agricultural industry, creating waves of migrant workers.

Where's the long-term benefit to the country?

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. He founded two companies specializing in embedded systems. Contact him at . His website is .

Reader Feedback

Jack,

How can you be against hiring cheaper immigrant workers? Being a capitalist society, everyone wants to make maximum profits. If you want to protect the “welfare” of Americans, become a socialist nation. But you guys don't like socialism, so you destroyed the USSR. How can you have the cake and eat it too?

Ramesh


I had a friend Rod who lost out to an H1-B person here at Nokia on a job — to be fair about the deal the guy who came over from Finland had several years of experience with the software in question, and the software will be shelved in 2006 so it was a temporary thing anyway.

Rod ended up getting a job doing GPS navigators with another company, with several old friends, and should be in for a steadier ride in the long run — which his wife and kids will appreciate.

All and all in the long run things worked out better, Nokia got the subject matter expert experienced SW developer, who being single didn't mind coming to the US, on a project that had a finite end in sight, and Rod found a position that had better long term prospects.

Many of the people who try the waters on an H1-B, then negotiate a longer stay and more permanent visa — starting the melting pot process.

I think the key is that employers not abuse the system and possibly that checks and balances regarding relevant experience be added, so that the cases that make the 5 O'clock news don't happen.

Realistically, it is not possible to transfer all the knowledge on each new Nokia product series via a stack of documentation, and computer disks. So in a global corporation some people from the US get visa's and visit Finland, or the UK, or Germany, and other people get visa's to come from those countries to the US for an extended period of time to ensure a smooth product launch. In a global economy the same is true at many other companies, such as Daimler-Chrysler, Ford-Volvo, VW, Motorola, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, etc.

Short term visas to transfer product knowledge across national boundaries greatly speed the flow of new innovation when properly done.

This is probably a good and proper use of a temporary visa.

Bill Murray
Baseband Engineer
Nokia


“It's just plain wrong to replace our skilled – and admittedly expensive – workers with cheaper imports. If the H-1B program is having this effect, it should be terminated immediately.” – Amen! I'm glad you've addressed this issue. I think we need to make our lawmakers aware of how we feel.

Scott T. Siddall
Information Analyst
EDS


Sounds correct to me. Although I am currently employed, I too have noticed that Homeland Security and Gulf War II have not seemed to life tech employment levels. Although it does sound protectionist, I have to cast my vote with reducing the number of H1-B visas. At the same time, I realize that this will create a push for employers to do their engineering overseas along with their manufacturing. My bet is that having a compatible culture and language will improve my employment chances with American companies.headline : H-1B visas and your job

Terry Hansen
Computer Engineer
Compact Power Inc.


So, 6 years ago, I came here on a H1-B, and am now a permanent resident (or green card holder). In response to your point about people being expected to leave after 3 or 6 years, it is the aim of most H1-B holders to become permanent residents, and remain in the USA.

As a part of my job, I recruit (or used to…) embedded / DSP staff. I think you will find that the takeup of green cards within this sector will be somewhat self regulating. 2 reasons:

1) It's expensive to initially relocate staff
2) It takes a potentially unknown time period (3-6 months) to get through the H1-B and relocation process, so the local labor market is actually more appealing, if the talent is available.

As an embedded engineer, I would personally fret far more about the amount of work going to places like India than I would about stemming talent coming into the country & paying taxes on their hard earned $$.

Simon Swift


Thanks for the article. As an out of work engineer, I appreciate any calling of attention to our current desperate engineering situation.

Personally, this is my second bout of extended unemployment as an engineer – the other was in the early 90's. Something needs to be done and I'm not quite sure what it is.

Al


Like it or not, American Engineers are going to face the fact that there are qualified engineers in Asia and Eastern Europe who are willing to do the same work for less. In the long run H1-B visas are a minor issue. The exporting of the whole engineering department function to India, or Russia is the threat that is wiping out American engineers.

H1-B visa holders, willing to work for less is in the spirit of capitalism. The fact that these workers can't stay, and can't switch employers is not. I think this is actually as important to employers as lower salaries. Management can treat these works like slaves, since their only recourse is to go home.

Doug Arnold
Chief Scientist
Symmetricom


I live in Australia (a country heavily influenced by policy in the United States), and I have little or no sympathy for this situation, I will hopefully explain why by example.

Many countries have been working towards so-called Free trade agreement. Historically Australia (along with many other countries) had high import tarrifs (up to 40%) to protect local manufacturing and industry.

The free trade agreement has removed these tarrifs, forcing local industry to become more competitive with the world market. This has mixed results, some businesses strengthened, some go broke.

What is my point you ask? I am getting to it (slowly). Why should the labor market be any different? If a country has an abundance of competent engineers that are willing to work at reduced rates, why not use the resource. How is it different to outsourcing the work to another country -India is currently producing mountains of “Bulletproof” software at an alarming rate.

This brings me back to my Australian story, a large part of our export market is in agriculture and mining, we are in direct competition with the USA on many overseas contracts.

Australia can manufacture wheat at about half the cost of USA, yet the US still gets the contracts. Why? Subsidies. The US government pay local farmers to sell there grain well below cost price, making a far superior industry with better efficiency and work practices out of business. The free trade agreement is explicit about tarrifs, but mentions nothing of subsidies. Is it fair? You decide.

By stopping this immigrant workforce you speak of from entering the country, many businesses will pack up and move to the countries where there is an abundance of this labor. Or, as has happened within the company I work for, outsourced the work all together (India and Hungary). This leaves no Jobs in the US, Australia, Germany etc.

What is the next source of highly skilled low rate engineers – Iraq, you have alluded to this previously in another article.

Tom Wilson


I am an H1B visa holder and currently working in the bay area. I am not for or against the H1B program, but I'd like to make some counter arguments to your posting:

Most H1B visa holders have their companies sponsor green cards letting them become permanent residents in the USA. So, in a way, they eventually do become part of the “melting pot that embraces smart folks”. Smartness is relative and whether all H1B visa holders are “smart folks” is a different matter.

An “H1B visa” was probably not required in 1880 to enter the US, but the visa holder of today is not any different from your grandparents who immigrated to this country several decades back. In fact, the visa holder at least has some skills to boast of.

Is a person who immigrated to the US in 1880 more of a citizen than a person who immigrated in 1960? Probably not. Immigration to this country has been made much more difficult now (especially after 9/11) than it was 20 years back and to many, the H1B visa is the only route to pursue the “American dream”.

(What irritates me most is that H1B-turned-green card-turned-citizens are having the cheek to criticize the H1B program as adversely affecting the US job market!)

True, H1B's are inexpensive, but isn't that what competition is all about? If you can let Japan enter the US market with cheaper and fuel efficient vehicles and drive incompetent US automobile companies out of business, can't the H1B worker too, at a different level, pose a challenge to the American competing for the same job?

Shanker
Software developer


I'll bet you could easily rework this article, roughly substituting “NAFTA” for “H-1B” and “textile worker” for “engineer”, and still get the same story.Someday (soon?) the economy will bounce back, and most of us high-tech workers will be employed again, but not so for those blue-collar Americans who have lost their jobs due to NAFTA (or the most favorable trading partner status for our good friends, the PRC).

When our times become good again, let's not forget those left behind – is it worth it, demoting hard-working middle-class Americans to lower-class service jobs (if at all), so that we can save 4% at WalMart?

Tom Brennan


Maybe Jack should stick to writing about embedded systems.

H1-B's are not hogging jobs. When we built our group not onesingle American engineer within the company wanted to have anythingto do with it, and we didn't find any American EE's with the skills and/orinterest to join. Maybe because it was a “risky” career move. It's been this wayall along.

They could slash the H1-B's and it wouldn't make a difference. the EE unemployment rate wouldn't budge, but the number of unfilled positions in the industry would go up — because there are still LOTS of open positions. I just keep getting emails from headhunters week after week. Only problem: theywant highly qualified and specialized people. And a lot of Europeans, Asians,and Canadians just fit the bill.

What this does for the American economy is that it helps make it larger,without taking away from Americans. On the contrary, all Americans benefit fromthe relatively high taxes that these H1-B workers pay, and from the expertisethat they bring along with them and then develop within the US. Many H1-B's apply for and obtain a greencard. So they can be part of the melting pot.a

I think it's a win-win situation, within reason of course. But Mr. Ganssle would rather put a stop to the brain drain, for the sake of good old protectionism.

Xavier
Software and IC Design Engineer

p.s. Included are comments that some of my colleagues made in response to Jack Ganssle's article:

“I felt that the article was biased.”

“I think it is more to do with outsourcing than H1-B's. H1-B's are paidthe same as local guys, or sometimes more (there might be a few caseswhere they are paid less). By the way if I am right, from september thisyr, the H1-B quota is going down to 65,000.”

“H1-B backlash now that the economy is not so sweet ?”


I believe that out of necessity corporate loyalty to its employees has become an anachronism. Except for some specialized niches, most software and hardware development has become a commodity. Due to the global nature of industry today, any firm that hesitates seeking the lowest prices for any commodity it uses is doomed. I don't see any way American Engineers can compete with people who are willing and able to live comfortably on wages that are below the U.S. poverty level. I shudder to think how bad things will have to get in the U.S. before third world engineering sources feel the pinch of decreased demand brought on by our loss of wages and jobs due their competitive pressures. A lot of folks in India and Asia taking jobs from U.S. Engineers today probably aren't that far removed from living in dirt floor huts and competing for clean water at the only faucet in town. Maybe in the not so distant future they'll be able to give us some pointers on eking out a living in a third world county.

Michael G. Marriam
Sr. Software Engineer
Bosch Security Systems


In reference to your article, ” H-1B visas and your job”, do you know if anything is being done? I know at my company the H-1B visa employees are not getting their green cards sponsored by the company anymore. They have been told that now is not a good time to pursue a green card for H-1Bs.

I am very interested in what is actually being done about this. Any ideas how we can get the EEs in the US to do something about this if nothing is being done?

Thanks for your articles,

Steven King
Senior Staff SW Engineer


I'm one of those people you're referring to in your article. I'm a 24 year old Australian with a few degrees and a few years of real-world EE experience – I'm a classic H-1B candidate. From my study experience in the US and from stories I've heard from Australian friends working in the US, we're considered well educated and possess a strong work ethic. We stand at least a good chance of working in the US with an H-1B.

What makes us want to do this? Its the money, pure and simple. A good graduate here can expect to earn ~40kAUD first year out, and ~60kAUD after a few years experience. The same graduate with the same experience can earn at least that in USD (ie ~60kUSD), and given the relative strength of the US dollar to the Aussie dollar, that translates to quite a pay rise – nearly double! So an Australian working in the US is earning twice what they are here, and the US company pays less than they would have to pay a US citizen.

So who wins? Me. Who loses? Both the US and Australian EE industries. We lose our good graduates overseas and you cop an increase in American unemployment. These schemes are a disservice to both our countries.

Have you got any jobs going, Jack? 🙂

Regards,Ben Davies


I agree if companies are using H1-B or L1 visa as a cover to get cheaper employee, its wrong. Out of all people replace by H1-B foreign worker, few people are taking advantage of this to hide their incompetency. Simply they can't compete. If one is weak, he/she will be gone tomorrow if not today ( Nature's Law) . Rather than complaining they should be sharpening their skill to justify their FAT salary. People who have experience on Vacuum Diode based circuit are experienced people but of no use except in Science Museum.

Andy


Dear Jack,

I am a regular reader of your articles, and I enjoy reading them. Just went through your article about the H1-B visas in Embedded.com. I very well appreciate the concerns raised, but feel that there is another angle to it.

I was actually a bit disappointed with it, not because it opposes H1 visas, but because if the ideas in the article are followed, it would ultimately result in stopping that melting pot of diverse cultures to grow.

During 1880s, there were less restrictions of people moving in and out of the country, and so there is no record of how many people came in and how many went out. But not all those who came in, settled here.

Moreover, with time the restrictions of getting into US have increased and there is no other primary way to get into US today other than the H1 visas. Not citing the exact figures, its known that not many leave this country, and they apply for Green Cards before their H1 expires, and settle here ultimately, making the situation very similar to those in 1880s.

Now if US govt. stops H1 visas today, these people will not be able to get into the country, and so this melting pot would stop melting any more, this diversity which is breeding success for US would stop growing.

Although I agree that there are people who leave US after their temporary work, but there are far more who stay here.

I therefore believe that the choice of stopping H1 visas is not just a choice of providing the residents with more jobs, its a choice of helping or hindering the diversity.

I welcome your views, in the meantime, Happy Embedding!! 🙂

Thanks,

Ravi Shah


Jack n' all,

I don't agree. Europe is facing a very similar situation, my job involves me travelling all around europe and I see more and more work moving to the cheaper nations (Italy, Ukraine, India, China, etc…). The managers stay but engineers are dropped, hooray for cost cutting (sarcastic). Such foreign work visa's are also given in the UK to skilled workers. The value of engineers is dropping but this helps reduce the farming-out of work to the countries mentioned above.

The real issue is economics, simply put:

1) Barriers to entry – Unlike lawyers we don't have special clubs and talk out of our behinds but the truly specialist can use wisdom to secure jobs/wages. Otherwise if you're a software engineer coding in a high level language you most likely have a substitute. With the barrier being cost/time for substitute to do your job… All governments can create barriers, France favours french firms, etc.. A lot of my customers setup foreign offices and employ local workers to get round this because they realise this.

2) Supply and demand – Engineers are valued and as such, countries like China & India are targeting this revenue, why not? My wife is chinese and when we go over they advertise for people to be trained in computers, the chinese labour market is very big.

I'm not trying to make people paranoid but I'd used to develop GSM/GPRS phones and the guys round me were paid £45-50phr now Ericsson down the road is offering £30phr. The UK government has made this worse by taxing UK contractors at source (IR35), we can only wonder why UK industry going down the toilet…

This issue is this is all historic as these are natural labour cycles (once national, now global), when India, China and maybe Iraq start asking for money per hour. Then we may become the better option and the guy who's job you take in India/China may also start moaning like a child.

Just look forward with optimism and do the best you can. No-one wants to lower their expectations but sometimes we must.

Andrew Ingle
FAE


I'm one of those sitting in India and browsing through the net who happened to see this article (“H-1B visas and your job”). I am working in embedded projects for American companies. Its interesting to know what Americans and people from other part of the world feel about the job situations in US. Its sad to see how US guys are suffering from JOB cuts. And even US decides to through out all the NRI's, still nobody would be affected other than Americans themselves, because if you see the current situation, most of the major companies are having their branches in India and Indian's are having so many opportunities residing in India itself ! Indians has so much of hardworking and intelligent people that it wont be long when India grows to be one of the super powers (It might take time but surely its on its way), but where are Americans heading ? forming a proper definition of terrorism and in pursuing the creation of many more Bin-Ladens ! Even in India there are lot commotions about inviting the American companies inside. All these are the different faces of globalization all over the world. It is unavoidable, so what one can do is to use it properly so that it benefits us. Hence it would be better to think indifferently to build a better nation than just thinking about stopping the 'whatever' H – 1B's.

Esha
Processor Systems (India)., Pvt., Ltd


Thanks for expressing your views.

It really pinches when it effects you Americans, because you are really not bothered about the plights of many more in this world who are suffering because of the same capitalist policies of America.

You are exploiting many smaller countries and draining out their resources by virtue of your might and policies of aggressions.

How about Americans doing business of arms manufacture and sell world wide, and employ their own people in these businesses? They are lucrative and would fetch enough revenue for pleasure.

Ashish
Professor


I am also unemployed – for a year now – due to using off shore engineering talent. I am an experienced embedded designer in both hardware and software and did not have a “sky high” salary.

Political pressure must be bought to force a reduction of the H1B visas. If American companies try to move off shore, the government must read them the riot act and say they can no longer do business in this country – period.

The current situation is politically untenable and politicians or political parties that do not address this issue will probably be soon out of office.

Sam Pyeatte
Sr. Engineer

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