Sunday, November 27, 2005

IEEE-USA Applauds Rep. Pascrell for Introducing H-1B Reform Legislation

As anyone in a technical profession knows, the IEEE is the world's largest technical professional society with over 360,000 members. The IEEE-USA has recently supported a bill introduced by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) called the Defend the American Dream Act of 2005 which was introduced on November 17th.

This bill would require all employers to attest that they have actively recruited U.S. workers to fill jobs before hiring an H-1B worker. This law currently only applies to "H-1B-dependent companies" who have a large percentage of H-1B employers. Unfortunately the law is not enforced; companies like Infosys, Tata, and Wipro have hired very few U.S. workers at their American facilities.

According to the IEEE-USA article the federal Office of Management and Budget found that "The [current H-1B] statute waives a labor market test, does not require submission of supporting documentation by employers, [and] limits the Department of Labor’s authority to review or question [applications]... [leaving] the program vulnerable to fraud or abuse." According to IEEE-USA, Rep. Pascrell's bill will fix these flaws and ensure that the statute aligns with the intent of the program.

Additionally, the law if passed would prevent outplacement (outsourcing or contracting) of H-1B workers by their employers to other companies. We can expect companies like Infosys to lobby hard against this bill because it would effectively put them out of business in the United States if they don't change their hiring practices (which don't include U.S. citizens).

Passage of this bill would fix many of the disparities that have put American software development professionals at a disadvantage and caused abnormally high unemployment rates in our field. This bill would be a win for both American software professionals as well as foreign guest workers who have been abused by some companies --forced to work unusually long hours for well below prevailing wages.

As Americans we need to stand up for the most vulnerable in our nation, which are immigrants. It is in our interests that they be treated fairly.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Review of "Dude, Did I Steal Your Job? Debugging Indian Computer Programmers"

I decided to spend some money on a self-published book by Nadarajah Sivakumar, and would like to think that as an activist I had some role in provoking him to write this book. I hope he makes a ton of money on it and wish him luck.

Although the majority of the book was one person's opinion lacking much substance in terms of factual statistics, the author had well formed opinions and strong views on the subject of immigrant programmers. I must admit that I found his writing quite enjoyable and in many ways feel responsible for the blatant racism and attacks he and other Indians have endured. Not because I was the source of such pain, but because as an activist we (I) need to take a stronger stand on issues of racism. We inspire others to take action and oppose flawed policy, but how many take their dislike of policy and direct that anger on immigrant workers?

As a member of the Programmers Guild, I can say that we strive to keep these types of attacks at bay. They do nothing to help our cause, and really have no place in civil society. I must admit that I chuckled at his cover page: "
To my unknown neighbor who keeps dirt and dog pile on the windshield of my car every morning, and to the thousands of American programmers who bash Indians with filth at online message boards, for inspiring me to write this book." But after the chuckle, I thought it sad that my fellow Americans treat these people in such a way. Anyone who does this should feel shame.

You can oppose immigration and trade policies without being racist. If you are directing your anger at the Indians, the feeling of anger towards them is natural. But as intelligent people we must realize it isn't rational. Direct that anger in more productive channels such as activism and furthering our profession.

I agree with Mr. Sivakumar that immigrants (and especially Indians) have contributed to our society. When was the last time you saw an Indian gang-banger or an Indian on welfare? Most of the Indians I meet and work with are of high character and very skilled. Although I enjoy their company and the company of foreign nationals, I also have a loyalty to our nation and can't agree with any program that hurts our nation or its people .

I agree with what the author says regarding his view on foreign workers: "
an American job should not be given to a foreigner if you can find a qualified American instead. If a company is giving preference to an H1-B worker, then that is wrong, and I completely oppose that. I also think that reducing the H1-B cap is the right thing in a downturn economy. You shouldn't lay off an American and hire an H1-B worker. That's against the law, and that's wrong from any angle."

The problem is that the laws aren't enforced and these things do occur. Members of the Programmers Guild want a fair system --one that is fair for all. I don't believe that our goals are that far apart.

I believe that if there is truly a shortage of workers, they should be welcome to fill that void. Whatever system (H-1B/L1/etc.) we have in place should be designed to accomplish five main goals:

1. Meet a demand that the local workforce is unable to fill. Metrics and enforcement mechanisms should be in place to guarantee that a void truly exists. There should be a safeguard in place -- as soon as an occupation's unemployment rate goes above average that occupation should be closed to these visas.

2. Prevent the abuse of Immigrants; they must be paid prevailing wages and this should be certified by an independent auditor at a cost to the company. They should be limited in the hours they may work (50?).

3. Have an enforcement mechanism with "teeth" which is part of a comprehensive immigration program. Violators of labor and immigration laws should be aggressively investigated and prosecuted.

4. A system that doesn't tie workers to a single company which has a simple and fast process to change jobs.

5. Not allow visas to be used in the export ("offshoring") of American jobs. Preference should be given to American companies; Infosys, Tata, Wipro, and other companies that offshore should be required to hire much more from the local workforce. Currently they hire very few Americans and use a very large share of the H1-B visas.

Currently, corporations are writing our immigration and trade laws and they aren't designed with the immigrant or American worker in mind. I understand the anger expressed by Mr. Sivakumar and believe that as a nation we should do better to treat our guests with respect and dignity that they deserve. Indians are our competitors in the marketplace, not our enemies. The fact is that the legislators who passed laws designed to benefit corporations as opposed to us, were elected by us. We must demand more from them.

To conclude about "Dude Did I Steal Your Job", I suggest reading it. He spends allot of time defending the abilities of Indian programmers which I don't recall questioning --although some people generally posting anonymously have. I believe there are cultural differences and communication issues that challenge projects when it comes to offshore teams but you would face similar issues in other countries (like Russia and China, for example) and this is the nature of offshore projects having nothing to do with race. There is some humor in the book, and you will learn allot about Indian culture and the guy in the next cubicle you never knew.

In conclusion, let's be nice to our Indian co-workers. And just because you post anonymously on the Internet doesn't mean words don't hurt people. We need to take our message to Congress and let the foreigners live and work in peace. They can't help us, so it is no use giving them a hard time about this issue.

I would love to debate Mr. Sivakumar on the issues if he is up to it. I am thinking of writing a book: "Dude, I Want My Job Back!!!". Only kidding. My next review will be by a person I believe is of Indian ancestry (Ron and Anil Hira) and the former President of the IEEE-USA: "Outsourcing America". I have not finished reading it yet, but I can tell you it is very factual and relies heavily on government data to back findings. The forward of this book was written by Lou Dobbs, author of "Exporting America" and a host of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wachovia Moving 4000 Jobs to India

In June, Wachovia said it would begin outsourcing software development and maintenance work to U.S.-based IBM Corp. and India-based Infosys Technologies Ltd. and Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. The work will be performed in India. The move will displace some U.S. jobs, but the company won't disclose numbers.

According to the Charlotte Observer, Wachovia plans on shifting 4000 American jobs to India. Companies to benefit from this deal include Infosys, Cognizant, and IBM. This is part of a goal to shave $1B in expenses by 2007. He may want to read the recent PWC study that suggests that nearly a third of their "survey participants actually experienced no change in costs in the first year after offshoring functions and 15% of respondents reported no change in cost base even after five years of offshoring."

Others have shown how companies often pay more for offshoring deals because of hidden costs, not to mention the costs of "changing your mind" because once you move your business knowledge outside the organization it is a steep climb to get it back. In a article the CIO of GE Real Estate found that "because of cultural differences you cannot simply replace on American worker with one offshore worker."

But let's be honest, I could care less about the business practices of Wachovia and if they are successful or not. I do however care about the future of our nation and my profession. The answer to this problem isn't business logic, but rather chaos in the marketplace. Consumers need to show genuine anger and become aware of the practices of Wachovia. If Wachovia believes this is a good thing and for some grand cause, why won't they disclose the number of U.S. jobs to be lost?

This trend to shift white-collar jobs to low cost nations will only be stopped once the American people and their elected representatives show a will to tackle this problem. Wachovia CEO Ken Thompson is trying to ride the wave of "nation building" and spinning this as an attempt to raise India out of poverty. What of the millions of Americans who have moved out of the middle class and into poverty? What of the American children not covered by healthcare? When will a CEO start riding that wave?

According to Thompson "We need to encourage trade and we need to work on education in this country so we can create a workforce that can do higher-level jobs...We have to raise the standard of living all over the world." I agree that we need to raise the standard of living around the world, but not at the loss of American jobs. When will he start lobbying for fair labor laws, sustainable environmental laws, and an open-market currency regime in countries like India? Currency manipulation is one of the reasons costs are so low there, after all.

In a fair market, Americans can compete toe-to-toe with anyone. Because we play by the rules we find ourselves with trade deficits and job loss. I believe it is important to call Ken Thompson on his hypocrisy; his attempts to spin this as a good thing has left a bitter taste in my mouth and it should do the same to you.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

IT Job Losses are Severe

According to the BLS, there have been over 800,000 jobs lost since March of 2001 in the IT industry; a total of 10%. What is disturbing is that the job loss continues post recession and in numbers similar to the losses seen during the Internet Bubble burst. The image below was based upon BLS statistics and reported by a study conducted by the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

These statistics explain why college students have stopped enrolling in computer science programs; down 23% in 2003 alone according to a report in ZDNET. Computer Engineering has seen a drop of 19%; while foreign enrollment has dropped just 2%. This suggests that Americans are losing jobs in the United States while foreigners retain them -thanks to immigration programs which allow corporations to replace American workers with cheaper foreign workers. This is unfortunate because guest worker programs were created to address an alleged worker shortage. Statistics show that unemployment in IT careers is on the rise. The image below (Provided by the CWA) depicts a drastic shift in our job market.

This is not a surprise because of a trend to shift American IT jobs to cheaper markets, like India, China, and former Russian states. Workers there are paid a fraction of American salaries ($10 an hour gets you an experienced programmer in India, for example). And while jobs move to India, companies lobby Congress to raise the number of foreign workers who are permitted to enter the country.

The H-1B and L1 visa programs allow companies to replace American IT workers with low-cost foreign labor. Why would companies bother moving workers all the way from India? Simple, according to a study by John Mianno of the Programmers Guild foreign workers are paid from 10-24% less than their American counterparts. This is having a drastic impact on the American IT workforce. What is worse, our foreign counterparts are often abused; forced to work long hours with the threat of deportation hanging over them because their employers are also their sponsors.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Offshore Outsourcing

According to groups like the ITAA offshore outsourcing creates jobs and helps the economy. Although I am no economist, as an IT professional it is clear that offshoring results in a net loss of jobs. Industry pundits claim that more jobs are being created, but do they pay as much and who are they going to? The fact is that many jobs not going offshore are filled by non-immigrant visa holders on a H-1B or L1 visa. According to a study by John Miano of the Programmers Guild, these workers are on average paid 20% less than their American counterparts.

There are clearly inequities in our system that result in both immigrants and Americans being abused or losing job opportunities. The industry claims a shortage of qualified labor, however their own practices are causing students to stop enrolling in Computer Science curriculums. Some universities have reported a 60% drop in CS students and now we are seeing some schools drop the programs all together.

There is no single answer to this problem. Our nation needs to adopt trade policies that reverse the practice of sending high-tech jobs to other nations --services should be part of trade agreements. These jobs give our nations an advantage and allowing them to go harms our nation.

Additionally, immigration laws need to prevent Americans from being replaced by low-wage earners. If there is truly a shortage companies should have no problem paying prevailing wages, and they should prove this through independent auditors.

Immigration laws should be designed with the realities of trade in mind as these two issues are closely related. In order to send jobs offshore, companies need visas for their employees. Companies that send jobs offshore should not be able to use the H-1B or L1 non-immigrant visa programs to facilitate that practice. BPO firms like Infosys and Tata should not share in these visas, as they clearly want to send business to India and not keep it in the United States.

Finally, companies should be rewarded with tax incentives for keeping jobs in the United States, and companies that offshore should be penalized.