But even conservative associations such as the IEEE question the need for more H-1B visas, noting that people holding such jobs are tied to a specific company and so less flexible in addressing workforce needs. The IEEE recommends offering permanent resident status (aka a green card), to foreigners willing to move to the U.S. if they have needed skills, such as foreign graduates at U.S. universities. Such workers would also be more likely to be paid prevailing wages than H-1B workers, reducing the economic incentive to avoid hiring Americans who do have the needed skills.
The training trap
Unemployed engineer Wade says he's willing to move for work from his native Indianapolis and has looked in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and other states. "The stories are usually that they have tons of locally unemployed tech workers to choose from, so why would they want to pay for me to move there?" he says. "I've even offered to pay the move myself, and still nothing."
Wade has drawn the line at getting additional training: "I'll take whatever training a company wants me to take, but I'm not spending my savings to get yet more degrees and more certs just hoping that some company will then hire me," he says. "That's all a crap shoot. ... The only way to know for sure is if a company will pay you to take the training," he says. "That means it has value to them. I already have a stinking master's degree and 27 years of experience and yet am having trouble finding a job."
Wade and many other out-of-work IT veterans say it's difficult to compete with lower-cost foreign labor. "Companies mostly just want cheap workers, or they want someone that has already done the exact job they are hiring for," he says.
Many companies post very specific job requirements in an effort to weed out veteran workers, say Wade and other experienced IT workers. Veteran workers can train themselves in new programming languages or tools, but that's no guarantee of a job if they do, they say. In some cases, no one has an advantage in the required job skills. "Some areas are so new, like cloud stuff, that very few people have any experience in it," Wade says. "So whether they hire me or a new citizen grad, or bring in an H-1B visa [employee], they will have to train them all."
Veteran IT workers may have a harder time finding jobs, especially if they need employer training, said Melisa Bockrath, vice president and group leader for the IT unit of Kelly Services. The reasons are fundamentally economic: "You can take a kid out of college who has some good core technical skills ... and you can put the same amount of training in and get them productive to your specific application, and their wage base is a lot lower" than someone with 15 or 20 years of experience in IT, she says.
Stories from experienced tech workers who can't find work
Wade's story of repeated rejection by employers despite his experience echoes those from other veteran IT workers.
John Donaldson, a 51-year-old software developer out of work since October, has been keeping up with Hadoop and other hot IT skills, but he's getting no job offers. Donaldson also has experience with SQL, Java programming, and data modeling, all supposedly in-demand skills.