Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, and more recently Panasonic and IBM -- the flood of technology-related layoffs and firings isn't slowing and, sadly, is likely to continue for some time. Given that reality, isn't it time that the IT community speaks with one voice and demands that the government suspend -- or at least greatly reduce and reshape -- the H-1B visa program for the duration of the economic emergency?
Don't blame the immigrants -- or cry racism
Before I go further, let me say that I do not -- and you should not -- blame the workers from India and other countries who seek those visas. Like us, they want good jobs and a better life for their families. So I oppose the vindictive proposal from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to lay off foreigners first.
This critical debate has been distorted in a number of ways. Some echo the arguments of the 19th-century Know Nothing Party, a thinly veiled campaign of racism. But others, such as Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times on Wednesday, and Vivek Wadhwa on BusinessWeek.com position the argument as innovation versus stagnation. End the visa program and Silicon Valley will become the new Detroit, they say. Well, that's a stretch. Innovation by Americans has not decreased, and there's no reason companies can't continue to tap the best brains throughout the world.
And others, many of whom are well-meaning, refuse to listen to those of us who think the H-1B program is abused and destructive. They claim that anyone who opposes the flood of foreign tech workers into Silicon Valley is, well, racist, nativist, and anti-immigrant. That's wrong and unfair -- and it sidetracks the legitimate debate.
H-1B: A solution in search of a problem
When H-1B first became law in the 1990s, the premise was simple and made sense: The growing technology industry couldn't find enough skilled workers to fill key jobs. In response to lobbying by the industry, Congress permitted companies to hire foreign workers under a new provision of immigration law that established fairly liberal quotas for skilled workers.
Fair enough -- but that's no longer the case. With thousands of highly skilled and experienced IT workers looking for jobs, it's hardly plausible to talk about a labor shortage. No doubt there are exceptions. But not 85,000, which is the total number of H-1B slots available both this year and last year.