Tuesday, March 31, 2009

H1B Visas - 2009

Why don't more Americans have jobs? In part due to the H1B Visa and some very poor regulation that allows tech companies to ship employees in from overseas rather than hire qualified Americans.

A recent but of an H1B Visa Scam shows that someone in the government needs to be paying more attention to this problem. Unlike Mexicans coming over the boarder to fill jobs that Americans don't want that pay very low wages to begin with in many cases, these are highly paid IT jobs - and people willing to work at prices that undercut American wages and put people out of work who actually want those jobs.

Legislation to fix some of the problems with H1B Visa was previously rolled into a larger, I would guess more controversial from the public perpective, immigration bill which failed. Hopefully the 2009 H1B Visa Legislation will not have such a fate and something can be done about this problem sooner than later to put more Americans back to work.

I recently worked at a company on contract and asked them why there were so may people from other countries when highly qualified Americans (like me) were out there looking for jobs. Turns out the overseas headquartered company (with I suppose an American office was handling all the H1B Visas) was giving the company I worked for a huge discount if they spent millions of dollars on consulting so the rates would be very low. This caused managers around the company to pressure other people in the company to use the foreign consulting firm to get the discount. That set up also gets the company I was contracting for off the hook for the H1B Visas. They can hire Americans at higher rates as needed and the foreign workers can still be paid less since they aren't getting hired on H1B visas through the American based company - but rather through the foreign based company.

The foreign company fails to comply with hiring Americans when available because if they hired an American who demanded a higher rate, they would have to bump up the pay for all the foreign workers on H1B visas. Therefore they only hire the foreign workers from overseas through some loophole in the legislation obviously. I didn't see one born and raised, native speaking American worker on the staff of the foreign company. I also noticed that in the IT lunchroom every day the foreign workers far exceeded the number of Americans. So obviously that puts me and a bunch of qualified Americans like me (my qualifications far exceeded those of the foreign workers - I was told this by managers at the company) out of a job and lowers American wages in this industry.

Not only that, the foreign workers are learning and becoming well versed in all the latest and greatest technoloogies at this big company, while American workers fall behind in skill sets and knowledge. Large companies can usually try, buy and utilize technologies that small companies cannot afford so workers gain valuable knowledge and experience. Right now the big American companies using this model are training staff in other countries and hurting the American technology base that supports the research and development that helps America remain a world leader. Also by undercutting wages and putting more Americans out of work - they have less customers, less revenue and less profits. It's a really poor business decision if you ask me and incredibly un-American.

Hiring these people from overseas who are able to crank out some code but not very good at designing software that is well architected and maintainable, and who cannot effectively speak the language or get the project done in a timely manner, companies end up throwing bodies at a problem rather than efficiently solving problems. One prior manager from Microsoft (who is European, not American) commented that the overseas workers were cheaper but it took so many more of them to do the job and so much longer that it wasn't cost-effective.

I have worked with some very intelligent people from this particular foreign company - in fact, one of the smartest QA people I ever worked with was from this company - but on average I would have to say the people were less skilled and in some cases not working much at all (sleeping at desk, combing hair in bathroom). I also don't see the sense of having these people write specifications documents when they cannot even speak English very well and no one can understand them and there are so many micommunications it drags out the project eternally.

Working with these foreign companies may be a dream for managers who get kissed up to while a nightmare for employees who are being sabotaged and undermined by political maneuverings. Many of these people treat their American managers much different than their peers.

In my case I went straight to management (after completing a successful project) and explained exactly what was going on. Since I was leaving they knew I had no reason to make these things up. I hope that some smart American managers are able to see through the politics and what is best for our country and their businesses - not just hiring people who kiss their you-know-whats. Measure the effectiveness of your employees based on metrics, ROI and maintainability of systems.

I wouldn't wouldn't call companies that kill American jobs and import or outsource American jobs "Best Places to Work" as some of them have been listed in various magazines. Before CNN updates the Best places to work list again, they should take this issue into account. Is the company outsourcing all a large percentage of IT or other jobs overseas? These places are not an ideal place to work if you cannot get the job.

By the way I heard that the company I was working for cut all their foreign staff. I applaud them. I hope they keep it that way for the sake of their revenues and the American economy in the short term and long term.

And to all the highly intelligent people I have worked with who are on H1B Visas in this country - I appreciate you and thank you for all your great work. I just hope it is not at the expense of my country. I have worked with some amazing people and if they are truly bringing value to the table not otherwise available, I'm all for it. If hired just because cheaper and puts me and other US citizens out of a job, not so much.