San Francisco Chronicle series on H-1B
San Francisco Chronicle series on H-1B
Date: Tuesday, June 05, 2007 5:28 PM
<<<<< JOB DESTRUCTION NEWSLETTER No. 1704 -- 6/05/2007 >>>>>
The San Francisco Chronicle ran a series of articles about H-1B. They featured
individual write-ups from several people with totally different perspectives
on the issue.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things in the main article is the
admission by CIS that they have so little oversight of the H-1B program. If
things are this bad now, just think how they will be if the Comprehensive
Immigration Reform bill passes along with its dramatic increases of visas.
Our government can't even handle the visas it has now:
Stuck in the middle is a federal government that has
problems tracking the visas. Citizenship and Immigration
Services, the federal agency that oversees this
guest-worker program, can't answer basic questions
-- How many foreign-born professionals are working in
the United States on H-1B visas now?
-- What percentage of H-1B visa holders seek green
cards instead of returning home?
-- How many H-1B visa holders and family members are
awaiting green cards?
Check this lame excuse out!
"The cumulative numbers you are looking for simply aren't
available," said Citizenship and Immigration Services
spokesman Chris Bentley. "These are not issues we track."
H-1Bs have their political activist groups that actively lobby Congress, which
puts them far ahead of American workers who have shunned attempts at
organizing. Kapoor's interview illustrates the growing confidence of
Last year, when Congress tried and ultimately failed
to overhaul immigration, Indian workers on H-1B visas who
had been waiting for lawmakers to notice their issue
formed a group called Immigration Voice to lobby on their
"We used to be in the past very shy, but it's all coming
out of frustration," said Aman Kapoor, the group's leader.
Many people don't realize that H-1Bs can stay far longer than the 3+3 years.
Thanks to Bush's "7th Year Extension" H-1B visa holders can stay in the U.S.
forever as long as they are trying to get a green card.
Kapoor, 35, came to the United States on an H-1B visa 10
years ago. He can remain beyond the supposed six-year
maximum because he has applied for a green card. Now he is
trying to expose the catch-22 that traps Indian workers
like him between H-1B visas and green cards.
As the saying goes, there is nothing more permanent than temporary workers.
Jwalant Pradhan understands this principle even though most of the ruling
elite in the U.S. don't seem get it:
Pradhan said Americans should realize that H-1B visas are
not temporary. "Here's the deal," said Pradhan, whose wife
is here on a dependent visa; their 16-month old daughter
was born here.
"When you bring people here for six years and you pretend
that it is temporary and they know it is not temporary and
you know it is not temporary, that is not right," he said
"People come here in their 20s and 30s. We develop roots in
the community and the society."
There is more to Kedar Patankar's interview than meets the eye. Read closely
what he is saying -- while employers were hiring H-1Bs like him there were
massive layoffs in Silicon Valley. Let's be real clear on what was going on --
Americans were being replaced with H-1Bs like Patankar.
So in February 2001, when his U.S.-based employer invited him
to work in Silicon Valley under an H-1B visa, he seized the
opportunity. "That was the worst possible time to show up
here," Patankar said, who worried about sky-high rents until
a bigger worry surfaced -- a cascade of layoffs in the valley.
"That shocked me like crazy," said Patankar, who survived a
round of cuts at the company that had sponsored his visa. "My
gut feel was I had three months,'' he said.
Pradhan and probably most H-1Bs understand that they are being used to
"I believe there is some depression of wages," he said. "But
the other way to look at it is that H-1Bs minimize wage
Pradhan's answer about whether H-1Bs are being used to replace American
workers was somewhat evasive considering he said he was anxious to answer the
He was glad when asked whether his opportunity may have come
at the expense of displacing an American worker. "I've been
waiting to answer this question and nobody's asked me," he
said. Pradhan said skilled immigrants work harder, and may be
willing to accept less, because they have debts to repay,
either for their schooling or for the investment it takes
to buy a car, get housing and pay the other costs of emigrating.
Two American workers were interviewed -- Rennie Sawade and Toni Chester.
Politicians and reporters would probably use them as evidence that American
programmers do find jobs, but the real story is what kind of jobs and how much
their standard of living has slipped. Chester for example has managed to get
her salaries back to 2000 levels but it has come at the expense of no health
insurance and two hour commutes (one way) to work. Sawade couldn't have
described the situation better than this:
"I'm making slightly less now" than what he earned on his best
contract in 2005, he said, and the downward mobility makes him
angry -- but at the system rather than at his foreign
competitors for whom he expresses some empathy.
"It's capitalism out of control," he said. "The United States
wants to throw open its doors and invite in all these H-1Bs."
H-1B FEDERAL IMMIGRATION BILL: Reforms to the work visa program are a small
part of the overall debate -- except in Silicon Valley Everyone agrees it's
flawed, but how to fix it?
Tom Abate, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Lost amid the shouting over federal immigration reform is a subject at the top
of Silicon Valley's political agenda: the future of the H-1B visa program
The national conversation stemming from immigration reform has focused on the
fate of undocumented aliens seeking legal status in America. But the 628-page
immigration bill recently introduced in the Senate also includes provisions to
increase the number of H-1B visas issued -- a program that currently allows
more than 100,000 college-educated foreigners to come here each year to work
Whether that comes to pass remains to be seen. Other Senate legislation seeks
to better protect college-educated Americans from getting pushed out of jobs
by foreign workers. And the House of Representatives hasn't even begun to
Any of these proposed changes, like the H-1B program itself, is controversial.
All parties involved with the visas agree on one thing: The system is
Established in 1990, H-1B visas allow employers -- high-tech companies and
universities are among the biggest users -- to hire foreign-born, white-collar
professionals for up to six years before the person must either be sent home
or apply for a green card.
Employers, led by Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, say the law doesn't let
them hire enough foreign-born workers in fields like information technology,
where unemployment levels are razor thin. They say the basic annual quota for
H-1B visas -- now 65,000 -- is too low. The Senate bill would increase that
base to 115,000 visas per year with the potential to go to 180,000, subject to
But American workers, notably computer programmers, say the supposed quota of
65,000 has so many exemptions that official immigration data show
116,927 H-1B petitions were approved in the most recent year. Over a six-year
period, government data show that U.S. officials approved roughly 800,000 H-1B
visa petitions. U.S. workers say this influx of white-collar temps has crimped
their pay and hurt their job prospects.
Meanwhile, Indian workers, who account for 4 out of 10 H-1B visa holders, say
they routinely use this temporary visa as a stepping stone to permanent
residency and they complain that the process takes too long. They want
Congress to eliminate hurdles that -- by their analysis of government figures
-- are keeping 1.1 million foreign-born professionals and their family members
waiting up to 12 years for green cards.
Stuck in the middle is a federal government that has problems tracking the
visas. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that oversees
this guest-worker program, can't answer basic questions including:
-- How many foreign-born professionals are working in the United States on H-
1B visas now?
-- What percentage of H-1B visa holders seek green cards instead of returning
-- How many H-1B visa holders and family members are awaiting green cards?
"The cumulative numbers you are looking for simply aren't available," said
Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman Chris Bentley. "These are not
issues we track."
So, while the Senate -- followed by the House -- struggles with the broader
issues of immigration reform, including whether and how to legalize an
estimated 12 million undocumented migrants, the stakeholders in the H-1B
program are struggling to be heard.
The business argument
Microsoft's chairman stated the business case for reforming the H-1B program -
- by increasing the number of foreign employees -- when he spoke before the
Senate labor committee in March.
"America's immigration policies are driving away the world's best and
brightest precisely when we need them most," Gates said.
By law, 65,000 H-1B visas go to companies that want to hire workers with at
least a bachelor's degree. An additional 20,000 are allotted to let firms hire
foreigners who earn a master's or better from U.S. universities. H-1B holders
working at research institutes and universities are exempt from these limits.
When the application window opened on April 2, immigration officials received
so many petitions the base allocation was exhausted immediately.
In his Senate testimony, Gates asked lawmakers to expand the number of H-1B
workers and also criticized the bumpy path from temporary work permit to green
"The reality for Microsoft and many other U.S. employers is that the H-1B visa
program is temporary only in the sense that it is the visa we use while
working assiduously to make our H-1B hires ... permanent U.S.
residents," Gates told senators, adding that current rules create the longest
waiting periods "for nationals of India and China, the very countries that are
key recruiting grounds."
Robert Hoffman, a Capitol Hill lobbyist for Oracle Corp., said the expansion
of the H-1B program and the expedited path from H-1B to green card are needed
to supply cutting-edge industries with the brain-power they are unable to
train or hire through domestic sources alone.
"The unemployment rate for professionals is 1.7 percent as of March,''
Hoffman said. "We have job openings we're not filling. So does Microsoft.
So does HP."
Tech leaders also want to make it easy for foreign-born graduates of U.S.
universities -- especially those who get advanced degrees in science,
technology, engineering and math -- to go straight from graduation into the
U.S. workforce. "Staple a green card to their diploma," Hoffman said, echoing
a slogan articulated by Intel Corp. co-founder Andy Grove.
Gates and the tech industry also talk about the need to improve domestic
education, but Hoffman said the short-term fix to the brain shortage is
"We have a duty to shareholders to hire the best people," he said. "And we
can't hire them because of arbitrary restrictions on H-1Bs."
The U.S. worker
U.S. tech workers say today's job market is a far cry from the go-go '90s and
the brief dot-com boom. Data published in April by the American Electronics
Association show that tech payrolls nationwide are down 12 percent since 2000,
which means about 800,000 fewer Americans are collecting high-tech checks
despite a slight recent increase.
Meanwhile, immigration statistics reveal that from fiscal years 2000 through
2005, the United States approved 794,000 H-1B visas. Not all went to high-
tech. Many visa-holders work as college instructors, accountants, architects
and medical professionals. But a third of all H-1B visas went to computer-
systems design and related services in the most recent year for which data are
So it appears that at roughly the same time that the economy was trimming tech
payrolls by 800,000 positions, the United States invited about 260,000 tech
guest-workers to join the labor pool.
That changed the life of Toni Chester, a 44-year-old contract programmer from
"The job market is just not there anymore," said Chester, who nearly lost her
home after the dot-com crash.
Chester told Congress in April that she was pushed out of contracts by Indian
programmers on H-1B visas who worked for $40,000 rather than the $65,000 she
had been earning. "I used to have a really great life," Chester said. "I
haven't had health insurance in a year and a half."
H-1B program critic Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at the Rochester
Institute of Technology in New York, argues that a large share of H-1B visas
are used by computer consulting firms, many of them based in India, that bring
Indians to the United States on a temporary basis, as the law intends, but use
these U.S.-placed workers to figure out how to move work offshore.
"Even the Indian government calls the H-1B visas the outsourcing visa,"
said Hira, whose concerns have prompted scrutiny from Sens. Dick Durbin, D-
Ill., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa -- delighting H-1B critics and unsettling
Bay Area resident and program critic Neil Heller graduated from Stanford in
1970 with a degree in sociology and drifted into computer programming in the
1980s when he taught himself to write basic programs on PCs.
"I got so taken with computing that I decided to get into it full time,"
said Heller, who spent the next 25 years getting on-the-job programming
experience in successive waves of technology from mainframes to mini-computers
to networked PCs.
In 1999, however, Heller's lack of formal training caught up with him when the
Oakland company for which he was working laid him off. "I was the only one out
of eight to 10 persons without a computer science degree," he said.
"I was shown the door."
So Heller went back to college at the age 51 to get credentialed in computer
science -- "Calculus almost killed me," he said -- only to exit Cal State
University East Bay in 2004 to find the job market had changed entirely.
"People were looking for experts; there was absolutely no thought of bringing
a person in and bringing them along," said Heller, who took programming
contract work to pay his bills.
In October, he finally landed a permanent job in the data-storage operation of
a financial institution.
Washington resident Rennie Sawade, a 44-year-old software engineer affiliated
with the Programmers Guild, an organization of tech workers opposed to the H-
1B program, said he understands the resentment of Indian tech workers at being
kept waiting on temporary visas to get their green cards. "Companies would
prefer it that way," he said. "They want people in the limbo stage."
The Indian worker
Last year, when Congress tried and ultimately failed to overhaul immigration,
Indian workers on H-1B visas who had been waiting for lawmakers to notice
their issue formed a group called Immigration Voice to lobby on their own.
"We used to be in the past very shy, but it's all coming out of frustration,"
said Aman Kapoor, the group's leader.
Kapoor, 35, came to the United States on an H-1B visa 10 years ago. He can
remain beyond the supposed six-year maximum because he has applied for a green
card. Now he is trying to expose the catch-22 that traps Indian workers like
him between H-1B visas and green cards.
Essentially, it's easy for Indians to come to work in the United States on a
"temporary" basis. In 2005, 57,349 new H-1B petitions were approved for
Indians. But it is hard for these temps to become permanent residents, Kapoor
said, because immigration law is supposed to limit to 9,800 the number of new
green cards issued to employment-based visa holders from any single country in
any given year.
Thus, depending on how many Indian workers try to convert from H-1B to green
card status, the rules would seem to make long waits a mathematical certainty.
"Now the backlog is so huge the process stretches for six to 12 years,"
In an 1,100-word e-mail, citing five federal documents, Kapoor estimated that
1.1 million holders of employment-based visas -- that figure includes family
members -- are awaiting green cards. Because Indians get about 40 percent of
H-1B visas, they probably comprise a similar slice of the backlog.
Bentley, the Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman, could not say
what percentage of Indian workers seek to convert from H-1B visas to green
cards. But he said that while Indians may view the H-1B visa as a stepping
stone to a green card, U.S. law says otherwise.
"The contract you sign, if you will, when you are issued the H-1B visa, is
that you are going to return home at the end of your stay," Bentley said.
But Jwalant Pradhan, 29, who came to the United States on an H-1B visa in 2000
and is working in Reno while awaiting his green card, said the law is
perpetuating a lie.
"When you bring people here for six years and you pretend that it is
temporary, and they know it is not temporary and you know it is not temporary,
that is not right," he said.
Fremont resident Kedar Patankar, 33, voiced the aggravation and anger felt by
Indians caught in this immigration limbo.
"What is the U.S. going to gain from making me wait," asked Patankar, upset
with "a system that is unfair to everyone involved including the U.S.
Patankar said that as much as he likes America, returning home is always an
"And I guarantee you that if I go back, I won't be charming snakes," he said.
Food for debate
With Congress mired in the details of how to reform every aspect of
immigration, from border control to H-1B visas, the entire package could
But as it now stands, the new H-1B proposals, like the program, pleases no
H-1B critics resent the quota increase but are pleased that their concerns
about job-losses are getting more attention now than last year when a bill
more favorable to employers passed the Senate.
Indians are watching the debate with growing frustration as their issue
continues to be drowned out by other concerns.
As for Silicon Valley leaders, should efforts to pass the omnibus Senate bill
fail, they will intensify pressure on tech-friendly lawmakers to deal with the
H-1B issue alone -- which Democratic leaders have so far resisted in hopes of
forcing a compromise on the broader bill.
At the epicenter of such pressure will be Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, who
chairs the subcommittee on immigration in addition to representing much of
H-1B visa holders:
From where, doing what?
Here is a snapshot of the H-1B workforce in fiscal year 2005, when 116,927 new
petitions for employment were approved:
Top 5 National Origins
Top 5 Occupations
Higher education: 11.2%
Architecture, engineering, surveying: 11.1%
Administrative specializations: 9.5%
Medicine and health: 6.2%
H-1B debate at a glance
Since 1990, the H-1B visa has allowed U.S. companies to employ college-
educated foreigners for up to six years. An unknown number of H-1B workers end
up staying longer while they go through the green card process.
The controversial program is criticized on three sides:
Employers want Congress to let them hire more H-1B workers in occupations from
computing to college instruction, where skilled people are in demand.
Workers say an influx of college-educated foreigners is depressing wages and
hurting prospects for domestic job seekers and want the program curtailed.
Indians, who dominate the H-1B workforce, say this temporary program is their
stepping-stone to green cards and want lawmakers to change rules that lengthen
H-1B debate by the numbers
The three main antagonists in the debate use different numbers to support
Employers see razor-thin unemployment rates* in fields like:
Computer and mathematical occupations: 1.4%
Architecture and engineering occupations: 1.3%
Life, physical and social science occupations: 1.5%
Indian nationals estimate that, as of 2005, there were 1.1 million foreign-
born professionals and their families trying to go from temporary, employment-
based visas to green cards***
Workers see nationwide tech industry payrolls** still below their 2000
* Unemployment rates from Bureau of Labor Statistics for April 2007
** Tech payroll data from American Electronics Association Cyberstates 2007
*** Estimate by Immigration Voice from federal sources
E-mail Tom Abate at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toni Chester, 44, Phillipsburg, N.J.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Toni Chester has testified before Congress about getting pushed out of jobs by
foreigners working under H-1B visas. She has almost lost her home in rural New
Jersey. Her health insurance lapsed about 18 months ago.
"The job market is just not there any more," said Chester, 44, who once had
her pick of contract programming assignments but is now grateful to have
landed her best gig in years.
"The way I see it, I'm lucky,'' she said. "I just now got close to where I was
dollar-wise in 2000."
Chester testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee last April about her
suspicions that younger and less experienced Indian nationals, under H-1B
visas, had displaced her from specific contracts by working at $40,000 rather
than the $65,000 she had been getting at the time.
Chester, who has two undergraduate degrees -- one in applied mathematics, the
other in statistics -- said that when she started contract programming in the
mid 1990s, good-paying jobs were plentiful. She had worked through U.S.-based
recruiting firms that placed contractors like herself with client companies in
need of temporary help.
But everything changed after the dot.com collapse and the Sept. 11 attacks.
"A lot of the Americans who were doing these jobs are gone," she said. "A lot
of the American recruiters went somewhere else and did something else."
When the downturn came, Chester initially thought it would be a blip and never
seriously considered selling her house and moving to where work might be
easier to find.
"I thought it was going to get better," she said.
Hard knocks taught otherwise. Chester said she has kept working intermittently
by getting contracts through Indian-owned companies that now tend to dominate
her regional consulting industry. "I had two nine-month gigs over the last six
years, but the majority were a couple of weeks to a couple of months," she
At the moment, things are better. Chester recently began a six-month contract
for which she was able to negotiate her best rate in years. But in addition to
taking the job, which requires a four-hour round-trip commute into Manhattan,
she had to incorporate -- so as to insulate the recruiter who placed her on
the job and the client from any liability for benefits.
"I am a business doing business with another business, which is doing business
with the client," said Chester, adding: "The way I see it I'm lucky; a lot of
people are not."
Neil Heller, 59, Novato
Sunday, May 27, 2007
After Neil Heller graduated from Stanford in 1970 with a degree in sociology,
he went to work processing insurance forms. Around 1984 he drifted into
computer programming after he started tinkering with PCs, taught himself how
to write basic programs and enrolled in a non-university technical training
program to burnish his skills.
"I got so taken with computing that I decided to get into it full time,"
said Heller, who spent the next 25 years learning on the job how to program
the successive waves of technology from mainframes to mini-computers to
By 1999, however, Heller's lack of formal training had caught up with him when
the Oakland company for which he was then working laid him off. "I was the
only one out of eight to 10 persons without a computer science degree,"
he said. "I was shown the door."
So Heller, then 51, said he "decided to go back and get the right kind of
college degree" and enrolled at Cal State University East Bay in September
1999. He spent the next five years in studies -- "Calculus almost killed me" -
- while supporting himself by picking up temporary contract programming jobs.
In May 2004, he earned his new computer science certification and started
looking for full-time work in what, in retrospect, appears to have been the
trough of the high-tech job losses that followed the dot-com collapse.
"I put out what I thought was a killer resume, but it fell flat," Heller said,
adding that the few callbacks he got were from "people looking for experts --
there was absolutely no thought of bringing a person in and bringing them
Again Heller sought contract programming work to pay the bills until last
October, nearly 30 months after graduating from Cal State, when he finally
landed a full-time job in the data storage operation of a Bay Area financial
Looking back, he says his biggest shock came during the first contract job he
landed after college, working as one of a handful of native-born Americans in
a large programming project dominated by Indian nationals.
"A person's life is very lonely because you don't speak the language,"
Heller said, adding that he can see both sides of the H-1B visa debate.
"Why should an employer pay extra and drive himself out of business just for
hiring Americans," he said, while in the next breath bemoaning the "humongous
vast horde of people coming in from overseas that employers are using as an
excuse to drive down wages and eliminate benefits."
Aman Kapoor, 35, Tallahassee, Fla.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Aman Kapoor came to the United States in 1997 with an undergraduate degree in
engineering from his native India. Since then, the 35-year-old engineer has
worked in a variety of technical jobs while studying for an MBA at Florida
With a frustration bordering on fury, he attacks U.S. immigration policies
that make it easy for Indian professionals to work in the United States on
temporary H-1B visas but then makes it exceedingly difficult for them to
obtain green cards to remain permanently.
"Now the backlog (for green cards) is so huge that the process stretches for
six to 12 years, said Kapoor, who recently formed Immigration Voice to lobby
for these Indian professionals.
The best way to understand the problem is by the numbers.
In 2005, the most recent year for which official immigration data are
available, the United States approved 57,349 new H-1B petitions for Indian
nationals to work here. This was 49 percent of all the new H-1B petitions
filed that year.
By law, H-1B visas are temporary permits that last three years and can be
renewed once for a total of six years. But Kapoor said many Indians --
precisely how many is unknown -- end up filing green card applications.
"Let me change my hat to a normal person talking common sense," he said.
"You get a person here working six to seven years, and make that person learn
all the system. Let's call it a temporary visa. And then you tell them to
Indian nationals such as Kapoor who try to go from temporary to permanent
status soon discover that the rules say no more than 9,800 persons from any
single country can make the shift from work-based visas to green cards in any
single year. That works out to 1 potential green card for every 6 Indians who
enter the United States on H-1B visas. The result, he said, is a large and
increasingly restive pool of skilled temporary laborers waiting for permanent
residency in the promised land.
"There are about 1.1 million people in the U.S. waiting for employment-based
categories waiting for their green cards," said Kapoor, a number that includes
both the workers plus their family dependents.
"More than half of that 1.1 million would be from India and China," he said,
adding: "We used to be in the past very shy, but it's all coming out of
Kedar Patankar, 33
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Kedar Patankar earned his master's in electrical engineering in 1997 from a
university in India and started writing communications software for a Silicon
Valley company with an office in Bangalore. During that first job he did a
crash project that involved a 45-day stint at the company's head office.
"Initially I was quite shocked by the opulence of this place," said Patankar,
who returned to Bangalore and eventually went to work for a different Bay Area
company. But that brief exposure to what he called "the best and the
brightest" stirred his ambition to return.
"I wanted to see how I could stand up and compare to them," he said.
So in February 2001, when his U.S.-based employer invited him to work in
Silicon Valley under an H-1B visa, he seized the opportunity. "That was the
worst possible time to show up here," Patankar said, who worried about sky-
high rents until a bigger worry surfaced -- a cascade of layoffs in the
"That shocked me like crazy," said Patankar, who survived a round of cuts at
the company that had sponsored his visa. "My gut feel was I had three
months,'' he said.
Job hunting in that terrible 2001, Patankar got two decent offers. How?
When thousands of Silicon Valley jobs were evaporating and hiring him meant
going through visa-transfer paperwork?
"Both the job offers I had in 2001 were almost exactly what I was doing,"
he said. "The companies that made me offers thought I could be up and running
in no time."
As for whether he might have accepted a lower salary, Patankar said, "It could
have been off by a few thousand. I don't think it was off by tens of
thousands. I survived by what I do in terms of talent."
His job secure, Patankar settled into his new life. "I started to appreciate
the U.S. economy and the people and the environment,'' he said, and in 2003
began the process of applying for a green card and permanent resident status.
That was when he got his second shock. While one set of immigration rules make
it easy for Indians to work in the United States under H-1B visas, a different
section of the book make it difficult for them to get green cards. Now,
although he has worked in the United States for six years and his children,
ages 5 and 2, consider this home, Patankar anticipates "another five to 10
year" wait for his green card.
"What is the U.S. going to gain from making me wait," asked Patankar, voicing
the same question as Indians laboring in the limbo between H-1B and green card
He is angry with "a system that is unfair to everyone involved, including the
U.S. economy," adding that as much as he likes America, returning home is
always an option.
"And I guarantee you that if I go back, I won't be charming snakes," he said.
Jwalant Pradhan, 29, Reno
Sunday, May 27, 2007
After earning his undergraduate engineering degree in India, Jwalant Pradhan
came to the United States in the summer of 2000 to study for a master's degree
in computer science. He dropped out after a semester to work for a consulting
firm that needed programmers.
Now he has a permanent job with a telecommunications equipment company that
has sponsored his application for a green card and permanent residency.
"I am proud of what I do for a living, I love this country and I love the
opportunities it presents," said Pradhan, who is allowed to continue working
beyond the normal six-year span under the H-1B visa while his green card
application is in process.
"You'd be surprised how much people like me must study the law," Pradhan said.
Now he and thousands of fellow Indians are stuck in a legal limbo. There is no
limit on how many H-1B applicants can come from a single country, and Indian
nationals dominate the category. But green cards are doled out on country-per-
country quota. As Congress debates whether more skilled workers should be
allowed to come each year under H-1B visas, Pradhan said Americans should
realize that H-1B visas are not temporary.
"Here's the deal," said Pradhan, whose wife is here on a dependent visa; their
16-month old daughter was born here.
"When you bring people here for six years and you pretend that it is temporary
and they know it is not temporary and you know it is not temporary, that is
not right," he said "People come here in their 20s and 30s. We develop roots
in the community and the society."
He was glad when asked whether his opportunity may have come at the expense of
displacing an American worker. "I've been waiting to answer this question and
nobody's asked me," he said. Pradhan said skilled immigrants work harder, and
may be willing to accept less, because they have debts to repay, either for
their schooling or for the investment it takes to buy a car, get housing and
pay the other costs of emigrating.
"I believe there is some depression of wages," he said. "But the other way to
look at it is that H-1Bs minimize wage inflation."
Now Pradhan wants his green card, and he also wants immigration rules that
recognize that when skilled people pick up and move halfway around the globe
there is nothing temporary about it. "However the government policy pretends
it doesn't know that," said Pradhan, adding: "What I'd really like from
Congress is for you to make up your minds whether you want us here or not."
Rennie Sawade, 44, Snohomish, Wash.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
When Rennie Sawade graduated from the University of Michigan in 1986 with a
bachelor's in computer science and a minor in math and went to work in the
programming industry, it was easy to find full-time positions and the pay and
benefits were good.
"I did move around quite a bit back in the day, when there were real jobs
available," Sawade said. "I lived in seven states and worked for a variety of
companies large and small. I was mainly on-staff."
The dot.com crash changed everything. Suddenly the best he could do was string
together short-term contract programming jobs that paid less, with fewer
benefits, than the positions he had held before. The 44-year-old programmer
thinks he knows why.
"Pulling in the H-1Bs pulls the salaries down," Sawade said. "Earlier in my
career, salaries had been going up. Now they're stagnating or sliding down."
Did he make one change too many when he quit a safe job at a big software
company in November 2000 to join a startup that tanked four months later?
"Hard to say," he said. "Hindsight is 20-20." Alluding to stories written back
then about striking it rich at startups, he added: "You hear about the
successes. So it wasn't that odd."
Since his career stalled six years ago, his resume lists about eight contract
programming jobs, ranging from two months to 22 months, with most lasting
about half a year. Some had good benefits, he said, some had none and others
fell in between. Pay has also fluctuated.
"I'm making slightly less now" than what he earned on his best contract in
2005, he said, and the downward mobility makes him angry -- but at the system
rather than at his foreign competitors for whom he expresses some empathy.
"It's capitalism out of control," he said. "The United States wants to throw
open its doors and invite in all these H-1Bs."
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