Thursday, August 24, 2006

Forming coalitions between American workers and H-1b holders

I resigned this week from the board of directors of the Programmers Guild. Essentially, it was over the policy to not allow guest workers to join. The policy is in place to "prevent foreign workers from taking over". I personally believe the policy is a result of paranoid thinking and see little to no threat of some anti-labor or pro-globalization group from taking over. I do see the policy as counter-productive and a lost opportunity to become a real political force - as opposed to a fringe group. Obviously this isn't the only reason I resigned, and I am not going to get into details as that wouldn't be very professional.

Although an unrealistically high number of guest workers flooded the labor markets and harmed American workers (especially from 2001-2003), guest workers on these visas are also harmed. They are prevented from changing jobs at will, some are contractually bound to the companies, and the majority are paid below average wages and most work longer hours. In short, they are exploited. American workers aren't the only victims is all that I am saying.

I have concluded that a technology based professional organization that invites all who work in the United States is needed - that isn't afraid to tackle these issues. Perhaps the IEEE-USA is that organization?

The IEEE-USA recognizes the two sides to this issue. They believe that we need a sustainable number of guest workers and that the program shouldn't replace American workers. They also recognize that we should treat our immigrant or guest workers better and more fairly.

Together American technology workers and foreign guest workers can be a political force and get a sustainable and fair system in place. Apart, we all lose to the special interests and IT lobbyist groups like the ITAA.

Hopefully the Programmers Guild will one day get with the program, or another organization will step up to the plate. The Guild has done some very positive things this year and I have confidence that if they hold elections some new leaders will step up to the plate. There have not been elections in the past two years, which are required to be held each year. I am a bit puzzled as to why members haven't demanded elections.


At 2:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad that [IEEE-USA] are become cause! Thanks that it was to this! No more communist regime in new times. Tell America, wake-up and be now!

At 12:03 PM, Blogger llamajockey said...

Hello R. Lawson,

I am really happy to have stumbled upon this blog.

I am sorry you had to step down from the board of the Programmer's Guild. However, if the long term term of the Programmer's Guild is to become a rallying post for what would ultimately be a labor guild/union, the best hopes of furthering our professional interests, I see the need to limit membership for those who would qualify as potential union members.

Whoever there is still a need for an international organization representing the interests of software developers and engineers worldwide and fostering cooperation, progress and non-exploitive modes of employment.

I totally agree that a side of the IT/Engineer Labor Arbitrage story that is not being told is just how often H1-B
visa holders are exploited.

Through working along side several Indians I was able to gain a level of trust and from what I have gathered ther eare numerous ways they are taken advantage of.

First of all "non-immigrant" tech workers often have to put money up front in order to be put on a H1-B waiting list. The cost can be up to several thousand dollars which is raised through high interest loans. Interest accumulates as they wait years to actually land a job overseas. You can even find numerous Indian websites that document all sorts of these scams.

Second, I have been told by Indian co-workers that they are often payed less than the specified LCA salary through any number of means. Kickbacks are common and being over charged for living arrangements as well. Lots of Landlords will not rent to temporary guest workers. Also Indian bodyshops are notorious for not paying for benchtime.

Then H1-Bs are often shaken down for legal expenses and processing "fees" on behalf of both the H1-B sponsor and their Immigration Lawyers. Both of which have every interest to draw out the annual renewal and green card process as long as possible.

I was once told by managers I worked with that the non-immigrant workers the company hired ended up losing their jobs because the fly by night bodyshop they worked for was not withholding taxes.
When it got back to my company, they had no option but to discontinue business with the H1-B bodyshop. It was not the H1-B workers fault but they took the fall nonetheless.

At one Fortune 50 company I worked at, one of the cut rate H1-Bs they loved to hire, went to the hospital with a very serious illness only to learn he did not have valid medical coverage. The boss found out over the weekend when he got a call from the emergency room asking him to verify the man's employment and residency. I guess the IT broker was no where to be found. Another H1-B was not payed for several months along with several others at his company. He lost the apartment he shared with two other men. Luckily he was able to couch surf for a couple of months.

I know of cases where H1-B made the mistake for talking to their Immigration Lawyer about problems with their sponsor over payment, benifits or working conditions, endless overtime. They thought the lawyer was their legal counsel. Sorry Charlie your Immigration lawyer unless you hired him yourself and are paying top dollar represents the interests of your employers/sponsor. You just bought yourself a ticket home.

Also I have the feeling that lots of H1-Bs are exploited by greedy family members and in-laws. I hate to say this but there was H1-B I worked closely with who always complained of greedy relatives back home.

Last, In my years in IT I have personally witnessed several cases where senior IT executive were fired, or if a true bigwig and especially corrupt given a golden parachute, for taking kickbacks or unauthorized gratuities from vendors. And this occurred in dealings with established big name US software, hardware and consulting firms. You can not tell me that the both the US and Indian outsourcing firms that are convincing US firms to hire unqualified H1-Bs and having US employees train them are not paying kickbacks.

Anyway I would love to see the horror stories that H1-Bs are exposed to get a wider audience.


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