IT immigration: Thoughtful debate amid the flames

Last week's column advocating fast-track citizenship for technologists generated heat – but also more than a little light

Wow. My column last week proposing to grant citizenship to immigrant developers, "Open the floodgates to IT immigration," generated a torrent of comments from readers (83 and counting). Many were emotional, some were flames, almost all were opinionated, and the vast majority was – drumroll – thoughtful and rational, and they made me sympathetic to their point of view. As one person wrote, "there's a lot of layers to this onion," and our readers peeled them all back. Thanks, everybody, for taking the time.

However, it's tough to wade through all 83 comments at a sitting and find the highlights. So I've done that for you below, separating them into the key themes. Next week I'll respond to some of these comments, but for now, I'll let them speak for themselves.

And one more thing: I'm excluding the personal attacks ("you're overpaid and arrogant, and need an attitude adjustment") and antimedia invective ("blatant agenda of your advertisers and owners").

Yes, I was deliberately trying to be a bit provocative with my proposal last week, but I do believe we need some bold steps to get this country back on track. No, InfoWorld's advertisers and owners had nothing to do with my column. Overpaid? I wish. And arrogant? I like IT because I'm biased toward and have enormous respect for people who actually build things, make things. IT developers build and make things, writers just write. I'm not trying to pretend otherwise …

So here's what the bulk of the comments boiled down to:

Reader theme: Immigrants will drive Americans away from IT careers.
Itsborken: "Why would today's young students want to go into debt for an IT degree only to be forced out in 5 to 10 years? Universities cut their teaching staff because no one signed up."

Dugcat11: "If you want to end Comp Sci student interest as we know it – do something stupid like this. No college student with any idea of paying off his student loans or getting anything other than a minimum-wage job would ever sign up to study the subject."

Brownte: "The number of technologists in the U.S. is shrinking, not because of laziness or a lack of ability, but a pragmatic look at the viability of a career path."

Celp: "You'll have a hard time finding young Americans who want to spend $100,000 and four years on a college education to enter a field where they'll be paid and treated like third-world peasants."

GregMan: "Bring in more immigrants, depress salaries still further, and give college and high school students even more reasons not to go into IT."

Kbergmann: "The price of obtaining an MBA (both undergrad and grad courses) is approximately the same as getting a BS in Comp Sci and an MSCE certification … but the potential earnings and job flexibility of a person with an MBA is MUCH greater."

Reader theme: The H-1B system is bad.
Spinner88: "The H-1B system is basically indentured servitude. If we were given the power to move around and work freely where we want, companies could not depress wages."

DonnaConroy: "Reform the H-1B guest worker program so that employers are required to seek local talent for these job openings."

Ronee_2: "A substantial portion of these visas are eaten up by Indian outsourcing companies … hardly any of these H-1Bs are given the chance to apply for green cards and become U.S. residents."

Reader theme: IT salaries and opportunities for Americans are shrinking.
Sbeckstead: "My salary as a U.S. IT worker has declined from near that in 2001 to less than 3/4 of what it was then … If you can't find qualified workers in the U.S., then your HR people are morons!

Lordmike: "Free trade isn't free... it has a very expensive price to working men and women."

DouglasPaul: "I'm over 40, and all the management jobs are going to accountants and MBAs now. I've been looking for work for nine months. I guess I am out of IT."

Xtra: "I've stopped applying for jobs. I have job offers, but I suspect the offer is a 'disqualify an American' scheme."

Reader theme: Americans aren't filling the demand and need a better work ethic/attitude.
Chimchurri: "My company wants to hire American talent, but no one shows up."

Notsocheap: "Stop looking for reasons to not to work … you guys got used to having too much fun, running behind celebrities."

Tmpuci: "I'm a U.S. citizen and graduated into the IT slum. I had no problems getting a job, but a lot of my counterparts in school were not able to find work ... because most of them cheated through school and did not know anything! Americans should not blame immigrants for our problems."

Spinner88: "For all you immigrant bashers, what makes you think you deserve $130,000 to program when a new grad can do it for $70,000?"

A_guest: "Those industrious people who built this amazing country are busy working, and they have no time to complain about immigrants."

Orionblastar: "A big factor is the lack of professionalism of U.S. developers … immigrants come in with a professional attitude. They are team players, have a positive attitude."

Johnmk: "Lamenting is not our best quality -- innovation is."

Reader theme: It's the U.S. employers' fault.
Southoftheriver: "There's no shortage, there is a shortage of companies with more than a 10-minute vision for the future … a shortage of companies willing to make any investment in their employees."

Screw IT: "There's nothing glamorous about IT anymore, and companies are now getting what they deserve."

dbaWayne: "The businesses I've interviewed with tell me they want a person who will accept the fact that their position is fulfilling with no hope of ever being promoted or advanced. (Note: $65,000 is about 30 percent less than I was earning in 1998-2002.)"

sqlGuy: "One employer (in 2006) told me he'd bring in three H-1B visa holders to replace me if I did not stop being ambitious. I'll turn 49 this year, and for the past 27 years in IT, only three years did I earn more than $100K (as an employee). Today I'm pulling in $50 per hour as a contractor. The last thing I need is more competition."

Reader theme: It's no cakewalk for immigrant IT workers, either.
Ashkam: "Immigrant IT workers pay taxes without even getting to vote. Not only that, they pay into the U.S. Social Security system and Medicare while not being eligible to receive their benefits."

M4surveys: "IT immigrants are getting some 'blowback' from the ILLEGAL alien problem."

Kelmatics: "I'm sooooo frustrated with this immigration debacle… I hope there will be another country like America, except that's more welcoming."

Reader theme: It's a global free market… can't fight it, join it.
GoneSouth: "U.S. protectionists need to pull their heads out of the sand and realize there is a real horse race on for global IT talent."

Johnmk: "The world is flat, and simple economics in a free trade world will dictate that work and products will go where it's economically viable. The USA is a country built on hard work, innovation, and above all FREEDOM. If, for our shortsightedness, we ignore the FREEDOM aspect – we're doomed as a country."

King_david: "If the rupee floated against the U.S. dollar, we'd have a more level playing field. The current exchange rate prices us out of the market."

Reader theme: The root of the problem is our education system.
Immigrant: "The most important reason immigrants are ready to work for competitive salaries is because they don't have such hefty student loans back in their home country."

Brownte: "The U.S. certainly needs to work on math/science education – but it is a monumental leap of faith to say that there is such a dearth of talent that the *only* way to fill positions is to go to H-1Bs."

Shawn: "Americans are not being pushed in terms of training. You should see how the guys in India pass the certifications … a lot more guys give up sleep and a social life in these countries."

BettyBB: "Bring in foreign talent, but require them also to teach … require companies that hire foreign talent to have internships for American students."

Gaetano: "The U.S. needs more people … we're in a minority with a low level of education … we need to sell more stuff, but we have nothing to sell. In Europe, the education is much better."

To be continued next week.

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