Monday, February 27, 2006

Abolish the H-1B; Green Cards for US Graduates Instead

The H-1B visa is a 3-6 year temporary worker program originally designed to allow corporations to sponsor workers to fill an alleged worker shortage - this has since been disproved in the IT market which is the largest destination for IT workers on the H-1B visa. Until 2003 the H-1B cap was set to 195,000 and has since been lowered to 85,000 with the majority still flooding the IT job market.

After years of addressing the problem of H-1B visas, it is time to push for an entirely different approach. It has become clear that the practice of giving power over a person's immigration status to a corporation is unethical and should be banned. The H-1B visa harms American workers and foreign workers alike; the law was drafted to subsidize corporations with cheap skilled labor and not to protect American jobs or foreign workers from abuse.

The largest share of H-1B visas go to "body shops" or companies that outsource their services. Wipro, Infosys, and Tata (large Indian outsourcing companies) use this visa to enable offshore outsourcing of American jobs. Instead of meeting a shortage of IT workers falsely claimed by the IT lobby in the late 1990s, it is now a supply of cheap labor. The IT lobby predicted over 2 million jobs would be created from 2000-2010. As of today, we have lost 170,000 IT jobs since 2000. So much for job creation.

The H-1B doesn't always go to the best and brightest; the majority of H-1B IT workers are in their early to mid twenties and work for on average $13,000 less than their American counterparts, according to a report issued by the CIS. Don't be fooled, this visa is not filling high-skilled jobs that Americans are unwilling to do or not trained to do.

Every time we work to close one loophole in the H-1B, unscrupulous companies are hard at work exploiting another vulnerability. The number of H-1B visas are limited, so it was important that they go where our society needs them most - like to doctors and truly skilled innovators who would make our country more competitive as opposed to using the visa as a tool to export American jobs.

The only true fix to the H-1B is a total ban of the visa. I acknowledge that there will always be professionals immigration to the United States and don't advocate closing the door to them; we should be smart about who we let in and where they go. I would offer them something better than a temporary visa: a green card.

The H-1B visa should be replaced with a path to a green card for graduates with advanced degrees from accredited American universities. A green card creates a worker who is truly mobile and a real participant of the free market. Additionally they gain an interest in the future of our nation and will help create jobs as opposed to exporting them. Any such system should offer protections to the American workforce and show preference to the most experienced and educated immigrants.

Such a visa would have the following attributes:

  1. Best and Brightest
    Advanced graduates of accredited American universities should be eligible. GPA should matter.
  2. Mobility
    Workers on the green card have the ability to participate in the free market and change jobs at will. If they are being mistreated they can leave without jeopardizing their immigration status. Their ability to negotiate better wages is good for American workers who should not be forced to compete with exploited and lower paid workers in our own workforce.
  3. Labor Protections
    When American workers experience difficult times and a sour job market, it is not fair to force them to compete with additional foreign workers. Occupations experiencing high unemployment as shown by the BLS OES survey should be closed to immigrants until things improve. A good measure is the historical average unemployment across all occupations - usually below 2.5%. over the past six years. Any occupation with an unemployment rate above 3% should be closed to immigration. Occupations with the lowest unemployment should be open to the largest share of immigrants.
  4. Education Protections
    American students should not be displaced to foreign students. If universities want to accommodate more immigrants they should build larger facilities and hire more professors. The quality and access to a higher education for American students should never be jeopardized.
  5. Permanent
    We should not risk losing the investment in education and training to foreign companies. We should want to hoard as many smart people as possible. This is part of being competitive in the global economy. Reward these immigrants with a green card for their hard work and encourage them to become American citizens. Better that they are on our team than India or China's.

Such a plan would only work with a total ban of the H-1B visa. Employment sponsored visas have become tools to exploit skilled labor and replace American workers. We need the best and brightest skilled workers, not the most exploitable and cheapest workers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Lawmakers Chide Google and Yahoo on China Deals; Corporate Rats

Article: U.S. Lawmakers Lecture Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft on China Censorship

As a technology professional I often encounters issues that challenge ethical boundries, however the case of Yahoo ratting out Chinese freedom activists and both Google and Yahoo censoring content the line has been crossed.

Google has a policy vowing to "do no evil" but in this case they are doing just that. How many dissidents sitting in prison right now because of the actions of these companies remains unknown. What is known is that when corporations are faced with ethical issues that confront their bottom line, they can't always be trusted to side with ethics.

Our government needs leaders who value democracy and are unwilling to make deals with fascist nations. Our neo-liberal dealings with China are a major setback to democracy and pose a threat to our national security. Corporations need laws created because simply put, they can't be trusted to do the right thing. In this case Google executives were essentially asking for just that.

We can't have corporations acting as government agents for the Communist regime in China, as they should not be corporate cops for the Communists. It is time for reforms when it comes to our business dealings with that nation. It is evident that liberalized trade will not convert the nation into a democracy, as freedoms have been rolled back over the past 10 years. Given our record trade deficits it is also clear that this nation will never respect trade laws, stop manipulating the yuan, or change in any meaningful way.

The sooner we start imposing limits on trade with China, the sooner that nation will transform into a democracy and show respect for human rights. We have tried the carrot and now it is time for the stick. The $49 DVD players from Wal-Mart aren't worth the cost to human rights and our economic stability. Enough is enough.

Tata Accused of Withholding H1-B Tax Returns; Class Action Filed

In one of the most blatant cases of abuse I have ever heard of against H1-B workers, Tata America (one of the largest Indian BPOs) stands accused of forcing workers to sign over their state and federal tax returns to them. We have been tracking abuse for a period of time and this takes the cake.

Gopi Vedachalam, a Tata America employee, on Tuesday filed a nationwide class action lawsuit in the District Court in San Francisco against Tata America International Corporation, and its parent Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, as well as Tata Sons, Ltd. The proposed class action suit consists of thousands of current non-US citizen employees of Tata working in the United States, plus former Tata employees dating back to 2000.

According to the Economic Times of India, the suit charges that the Tata company has unjustly enriched itself by requiring all of its non-US-citizen employees to endorse and sign over their federal and state tax refund checks to Tata.

Both the Department of Labor and Immigrations and Customs have been asleep at the switch when it comes to detecting and preventing abuse of guest workers and visa fraud. We can only hope that victims are able to seek justice through the court systems. I must point out that our guest worker policy, which demands that the Department of Labor rubber-stamp applications, is prone to abuse because the law was written to actually prevent proactive enforcement.

LIEFF CABRASER HEIMANN & BERNSTEIN, LLP is the lawfirm representing this case. If you have been a victim of these abusive practices by Tata or any other company you may contact them direct via this link:

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Washington Times Reports Abuse of L1 Visa

The L1 visa is intended to be used as a visa for company managers and executives who conduct business in today's global economy. The Washington Times reports that the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general believes the visa is being abused to circumvent limits placed on other visas.

Companies that use this visa for legitimate purposes could have their ability to get quick approvals for their managers and executives jeopardized because unscrupulous companies are not obeying the laws, thus exposing the system to further restrictions. Additionally, those charged to enforce the laws are not, for reasons unknown, able or willing to do so.

I believe that abuse of the visa system is placing downward pressures on American IT workers salaries, and is a contributing factor in dropping interest in Computer Science enrollment at American universities. Students no longer see a future in the IT career, fearing it will either be outsourced or that guest workers will be brought in to replace them for less pay. I hate to contribute to that fear, but the direction of this government seems to indicate that it is well founded.

In my view the main offenders of this law are "body shops" such as Infosys, and their access to our guest-worker visa program should be cut off because of ongoing abuse. The guest worker program should not become a tool to offshore American jobs or replace Americans at their own workplace.

The inspector general called for USCIS to come up with new ways to make sure overseas checks are made and has given the agency 90 days to respond. Pressure by professional groups, like the Programmers Guild and IEEE-USA, in my opinion are a reason we are seeing the government taking action against law-breakers.

More information on this subject can be found at the Washington Times website:

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Global Challenge - Fairness for All (Part 1 of 2)

How does one create a trade and immigration policy that is fair for foreign workers, American workers, and still doesn't stifle global trade and harm business?

This is a tough question but the answer is based upon a simple concept: fundemental fairness. In this post I will tackle the big picture because this is what we most often lose sight of.

First, let's start with the guest worker programs. There are two major programs which are popular in the IT profession: the H1-B and L1 visas. The H1-B is a company sponsored skilled worker visa and the L1 is an intra-company transfer.

The H1-B was created in the early 90s for the purpose of meeting a demand not met by the local workforce. This is a skilled worker visa that has transformed into a "cheap-labor" visa, however that is not to say that the workers who arrive on this visa are not skilled. Recent studies show that H1-B workers are paid dramatically less than American workers with similar skills. This visa currently has a cap of 85,000 per year, 20,000 of which are reserved for graduates of U.S. universities.

The L1 visa is an intra-company visa and is intended to allow multi-national corporations the ability to move employees to where they are most needed. This visa has some problems and had become an alternative to the H1-B which has a cap. Although not intended to be a tool for "body shops" or companies that contract out labor, it has become that.

Fixing the H1-B and L1 visa sytems are a simple task. First, let's recall their purpose: meet a demand not met by American workers. The IT lobby was projecting 2.5 million new IT jobs in the late 90s. Since 2000, we have lost 2.6% of all IT jobs. We have lost nearly 7% of all software development jobs. Additionally, unemployment in IT has been above average for the past five years as well. Can we reasonably argue a shortage of local talent given a net loss of jobs and higher than average unemployment? I would argue the answer is a clear and resounding no.

Given the purpose of the H1-B and L1 and how the visas have been used to offshore jobs to cheap foreign markets we should make sure that American companies benefit from the program as opposed to foreign companies, while at the same time add protections for the American workers. The following five steps are simple and would help level the playing field:

  • Prohibit companies from using the L1 and H1-B visa to outplace workers; Guest workers should work within the facilities of the company which sponsors them. In short, no body-shops.
  • Limit the number of H1-B and L1 visas available to a single employer. The H1-B and L1 visas should supplement and not replace American workers. Companies like Infosys and other contractors have virtually zero American employees and this is not fair.
  • The H1-B and L1 visa should have more restrictive wage requirements. They should be used, once again, for skilled labor as opposed to cheap labor. The average pay for Americans in the IT occupation is $62,000 per year. This should be the "minimum wage" for H1-B and L1 workers in the IT field.
  • The H1-B and L1 visa should have more restrictive experience requirements. The vast majority of H1-B visa holders are in their early twenties and just out of college with no work experience. I can't imagine that they are able to fill jobs that American college graduates and entry level IT workers are not able to. Five years of experience in the same occupation should be the starting point, or in lieu of that a graduate level degree or higher from an accredited U.S. university.
  • Enforcement. Currently there is very little enforcement and companies are free to abuse the system, foreign guest workers, and displace American citizens with very little risk. The corporations with the highest number of H1-B and L1 visas should be required to conduct independent audits by a licensed firm and attest that they are following the law. This enforcement should be paid for by higher processing fees.

These are five simple steps based on fundemental fairness. These steps will allow more companies to have access to H1-B workers, and will insure that guest workers are treated more fairly because of enforcement of current laws protecting them. Additionally, this plan would shift the program back to what it was designed for and fill a demand not met by American workers. It also addresses the issue of offshore outsourcing; although we can't ban that practice our guest worker programs certainly should not subsidize it.

To summarize the five point plan, it would ban outplacement of H1-B and L1 visa holders, limit the numbers of H1-B and L-1 visas a single company may sponsor, have tighter restrictions on wages and experience, and finally provide for enforcement of the law which is paid for through higher processing fees. I welcome your comments.

I have reached my one-day word limit for my blog. Stay tuned for my take on trade.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Infosys Technologies Facing Class Action Lawsuit; Avoids paying overtime

I have learned that a legal team specializing in overtime law in California is seeking to force Infosys to pay current and former employees backpay for unpaid overtime through a class-action lawsuit.

I have provided more information below from their website and would encourage those who were not paid as required by law to pay special attention to your rights if you worked or currently work for Infosys in California:

A leading law firm is investigating claims against Infosys offices in California for allegedly not paying overtime wages to immigrant computer programmers. Infosys has been a leader in off-shore outsourcing and has been taking outsourcing a step further by sponsoring foreign citizens for H-1B temporary visas, in which there is a nationwide limit of only 65,000 (+20,000 US Graduate Students) issued per year.

It is alleged that computer workers from India and other countries are brought here on H-1B and paid considerably more than in their native country but considerably less than other workers and less than the exempt-status requirement.

California Labor Laws protect employees from unfair business practices such as unpaid overtime and benefits. California Labor Code 515.5 states that employees in the computer software field may be exempt from overtime pay if they meet several requirements. One exempt-status requirement involves hourly wages: “The employee's hourly rate of pay is not less than forty-one dollars ($47.81), or the annualized full-time salary equivalent of that rate.”

If a California-based employee, whether a U.S. citizen or foreign citizen holding a H-1B visa, works in computer software and is not paid at least $47.81 per hour or the annual salary equivalent of approximately $99,445, and works more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week, they may be entitled to overtime wages. In addition, the Department of Labor imposed wage requirements on employers of H-1B workers.

Infosys Technologies Ltd., an IT services and business consulting company, employs more than 49,000 employees worldwide and has billion dollar annual revenues. Infosys holds their corporate office in Bangalore, India with California offices in Silicon Valley - Fremont, Berkeley Heights, and Lake Forest.

If you are an employee of Infosys Technologies in California and make less than $47.81 per hour and do not receive overtime wages, you may qualify for damages or remedies that may be awarded in a possible Infosys Unpaid Overtime lawsuit.

Click here to submit your complaint through a secure form and United Employees Law Group will contact you.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

President Bush call for Congress to raise the H1-B visa cap

Today President Bush called upon Congress to raise the H1-B cap. The current H1-B cap is set to 85,000 with 20,000 reserved for graduate students and another 6,800 are set aside for workers from Chile and Singapore under terms of U.S. trade agreements with those countries.

What the President doesn't explain is why it is necessary to raise the cap. Does he contend there is a demand not being met by the American workforce? Is it in our national security that foreign nationals learn advanced skills and return to their home countries with that knowledge - making offshore outsourcing even easier?

I don't presume to know why the President feels a need to raise the cap. My guess is that the Harris Miller/ITAA lobby convinced him that American workers aren't available.

Some of you may be wondering what the H1-B visa is and what all the fuss is about. The H1-B is a source of cheap skilled labor - workers who are at the mercy of the corporation sponsoring them. The H1-B is not used to fill positions because of a lack of experience; the largest group of H1-B workers are 25 years of age or younger.

The H1-B is not filling a demand unmet by American technology workers; during the past five years computer and math occupations had above average unemployment yet these occupations recieved over 40% of the guest workers. Can you seriously argue that in times of high unemployment there are not enough Americans to meet the demand?

Additionally, the H1-B visa is becoming the "feet on the ground" for companies that offshore technology work. This program enables them to more easily facilitate offshore outsourcing. Through a combination of guest worker programs designed to subsidize corporations with cheap labor, and tax laws that make it better for companies to send jobs offshore than keep them in America, workers in the United States are feeling the pressure.

The H1-B program is a cheap labor program; according to a 2005 study released by the CIS H1-B visa holders are paid on average 15% less than their American counterparts. The majority of the H1-B holders are filling a demand for low cost labor as opposed to highly skilled labor. This practice is displacing college students from entry into our markets and because of this many universities now report a drop in Computer Science enrollment.

Studies have shown that there are many technology professionals unable to find employment.
The truth is that Americans in Computer and Math occupations had employments rates as high as 120% above the average of all professions during the past five years. This is according to government data collected by the statistics arm of the Department of Labor. I presented this data in my last blog.

America is one of the most liberal nations in the world when it comes to immigration. I personally value the contributions made by immigrants. However, it makes no sense to add more workers to the job pool when Americans are willing to do the job but can't find work. We need to invest in education and have real technology initiatives in America - not just political rhetoric based on myth.

If President Bush wants to make the United States competitive again he must guarantee that American engineering and technology graduates have jobs when they finish college. Currently, that promise is being broken. Until that promise is filled it makes no sense to raise the H1-B visa cap. Can anyone seriously support raising the cap given five years of above average unemployment in the computer occupations?

Finally, we can't sit silent while our politicians make absurd claims of a shortage in American workers. The only shortage is in American jobs. Do you want a lobbyist drafting technology laws or would you like some input? This is a major reason that I am a board member on the Programmers Guild. This is an organization that every technology worker who wants a future in this profession should be supporting both financially and through action.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Further examing the IT unemployment rate

Is it possible to have between 40-80% above average unemployment amongst other professional occupations and still have a shortage of workers in the IT workforce? With the exception of very unique skills found in a handfull of individuals, I can't see how one can make that argument considering the growing evidence against it.

In the coming blogs I am going to examine the groups of individuals impacted the greatest by the high unemployment. Two categories of people most impacted include both entry level and senior level IT professionals. College students find it difficult to gain entry level jobs given that they must now compete with a new global workforce. This fact is manifested in the severe drop in admissions to Computer Science programs seen in universities across America. A group harder to track are the more experienced workers - a concern of mine is a lack of data available to pinpoint the pain experienced by this demographic.

First, I would like to present the unemployment rate in another way. If we do a comparison of IT unemployment rate expressed as a percentage above an average across all professions, it is clear that the only shortage here is in jobs for Americans. This data is at a macro level, meaning it is from surveys done nationwide. Some regions may experience even higher unemployment that what we are showing here.

In short, we have Americans that want jobs but can't find them. That can be seen when you look at discouraged workers, and especially amongst skilled IT workers.

Please analyze this chart closely. You will see that it has been a turbulent 5 years for American IT workers. The percent is difficult to read - it starts at +140 and ends at -80. The year begins in January 2000 and ends in December 2005.

Average Unemployment Rate 2000-2005
(Expressed as a Percent Above Average of All Professions)