According to a July 2007 survey by Gartner Group of 225 U.S.-based organizations, 66 percent projected some level of increase in IT staff looking 12 months forward. This is up from 61 percent in 2006. The H1-B visa program, which allows U.S. firms to petition for workers from abroad, has been one avenue of meeting this demand. But the number of positions needing to be filled is seemingly way greater than the allowable quota imposed by Congress.
Speak to the open source community about the topic and you are likely to hear a mixed bag of comments about the H1-B program.
One comment is that the H-1B program is too prescribed. The quotas seem whimsical and aren't tied to actual demand for that year. Plus, they give too much weight to objective data without looking at who that person is and what they can offer. Many very capable open source developers don't have a college degree and the program does not easily accommodate them. In addition, the process is costly for an employer to petition for the visa, and also for the candidate to hire attorneys and consultants to insure that their application is proper.
H-1B visa petitions by U.S. firms began six months before the start of the Government's 2007 fiscal year in October of 2006. This date fell on a Sunday. By noon on the following Tuesday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had received more than 130,000 H1-B petitions for workers. That is more than two petitions for every available visa. Yes, you heard that right -- in one day the quota was exceeded.
In the U.S. Government's 2003 fiscal year, 195,000 H1-B visas were allowed, but the current number, 65,000, is closer to that imposed just before the dot-com boom at the turn of the new millennium.
One open source developer who commented on the program is now working in the United States on an H1-B visa. He wished to remain anonymous as he is gainfully employed as an open source developer and is working on his green card application.
"There's a great concern over undocumented immigrants and we tend to get bundled together with that issue," he says.
His application was an inch and a half thick. He hired a specialist to insure that all the details were included in the application. He considers himself lucky in being accepted and being able to work for a notable firm in the open source community.
Obstacle to SMBs?
But others are highly critical of the process as it is an obstacle to many open source firms who are often small and midsize businesses.
"The H-1B visas play right into the hands of large corporations," says Russ Nelson, vice president of an open source firm and member of the Open Source Software Institute. "First, because they make it more expensive to hire the worker you want because of the H-1B overhead. Second, they tie the worker to the corporation that created the job, so the worker is not free to change jobs. Since most open source firms are small to medium companies, the H-1B program generally hurts them. I don't understand what problem is being solved by restricting immigration. If somebody wants to come to our country and work hard, I see no reason to stop them."
Mike Tiemann was one of the founding partners of Cygnus Support, later Cygnus Solutions, an open source firm that made the Software 500 list in 1996. The firm received numerous awards and accolades, and was acquired by Red Hat in 1999.