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H1B Visas
Lock Out US Technology Workers

By Debbie Christofferson, CISSP, CISM

Supposedly, US employment opportunities in technology are so plentiful, that employers must import skilled foreign workers to fill the gaps. US workers seemingly lack the talent, education and capability to fill these positions.

Employees Contend That No Skill and Labor Shortage Exists

Companies are seen as using H1B visas to hire lower wage foreign workers, and viewing technology professionals as commodities. America's best jobs are bestowed to foreigners for positions that could be performed by our own workforce. Foreign education is subsidized on our US soil.

On the other hand, we live in a world economy that supports a global workforce. Are we crying fowl in favor of US worker protectionism that might go the way of the US airline and automotive industries?

At a July security trade group meeting, we were briefed on a "H1B" grant, that parallels the visa program. But it provides training and certification to local job seekers who met specific criteria. Instead of importing workers to fill demand, it builds skills.

How does importing skills affect US technology workers?

Understanding H1B Visa Program

H1B is a temporary visa for a non-immigrant foreigner to enter and work in the US for 3-6 years, approved in 1-3 year periods. Visas are capped at 65,000 a year, and we've reached the 2007 lid.

Up to 20,000 foreign nationals are exempted from the H1B cap, who hold Masters' degrees or higher from US institutions of higher education.

Industry lobbyists are urging Congress to raise H1B hiring limits and higher education exemptions.

The H1B visa is the primary vehicle for bringing professional level foreign employees into the US.

Hiring demand for H1B

Foreign specialty workers are employed by the technology industry and fill other shortages such as health care. Educational institutions also hire H1Bs in research positions. Workers can be imported from anywhere in the world. Technology companies continued to hire H1B workers during 2000-2003 downsizing.

How Workers Obtain the H1B Visa

Workers must be sponsored by a US employer who files an application on their behalf through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Typical criteria for workers to receive the H1B Visa:

  • Occupation sought cannot be easily filled with the available US workforce.
  • Employee must have the credentials for the offered specialty job.
  • Advanced college degrees, usually a bachelors degree or higher.
  • Examples of qualifying occupations: Software development, engineering, and scientific research positions.
  • Self-employment or contract petitions are not granted.
An H1B foreign worker can work full or part time, performing only the activities described in the employer application. Changing employers requires the new employer to file for a new H1B. Employees working for multiple employers must have separate H1Bs for each.

H1B visa holders can seek Green Card permanent resident status.

Concerns are raised about the sensitivity of areas where foreign workers are permitted to work, and enforcement of H1B visa limits. There is disagreement on the need for technology workers.

Who's Truth is True?

No shortage of qualified software professionals exists in the US, according to a research report by the University of California, Davis, by Norm Matloff, PhD (full report.)

This Research supports the view that the H1B drives down wages and turns college students away from the industry. The industry created the problem with downsizing and replacement by cheaper offshore and H1B labor.

College entrants are avoiding these degree programs and career choices. Cited university studies show a pay gap of 15-33% for H1B visas.

Don't Stand in the Dust

Foreign workers are not smarter or better educated than their US counterparts.

We do have competition from abroad. It's a global market after-all. To thrive, you must stay competitive by growing your skills and knowledge, and staying on top of your industry.

These won't eliminate labor price pressure or global job competition, but it will enhance your talent, skills, and market value.

Coming Next: Information Security is white hot! Find out everything you need to grow your career or break into the field.


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