Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Rust Belt Captive Labor

I'm not the only one taking Robert Cringely to task for his sloppy scapegoating of the H-1B visa program. There are over 100 comments with one in particular catching my eye:

H1B actually sucks in many ways but NOT the salary as I got paid more than my coworkers with the same education and experience and more than colleagues with more education and experience as a direct result of the H1B regulations around wages, but I had no mobility whatsoever within my employer or between employers due to H1B regulations. My employer knew this and systematically abused me knowing that I would probably not resign due to the H1B restriction. I also could NOT take legal action because they would fire me and I would automatically and immediately become illegal as my H1B visa would be invalid as soon I was fired. If people believe that H1B is cheap happy labor, they are dead wrong on both accounts.

I find the lack of mobility troubling. Granted that no one is forcing this labor to take the job, but there does seem to be considerable risk of exploitation. Of course, I'm assuming that the above comment is indeed representative of the H1B experience. And that's the rub of US immigration law: Few people have their facts straight.

If you can trust a university, then read the following summary about the H-1B visa program from UC Davis:

The H-1B program, created in 1990, allows the admission of 65,000 foreign professionals a year to fill US jobs that require a college degree. In addition, 20,000 visas a year are available to US-educated foreigners with Masters or PhDs from US universities, and an unlimited number of H-1B visas are available to universities and nonprofits (28,000 were issued to universities and nonprofits in one recent year).

I quoted just a small part of the article. You can read more and discover how Robert Cringely is guilty of skewing the truth. You might even notice the misinformation in Richard Florida's critique of the idea for more H-1B visas in Rust Belt cities. But if the UC Davis sponsored information is correct, then I see a loophole that Pittsburgh could leverage.

Nonprofits would seem to have a competitive advantage in hiring foreign-born talent. While the bottom line is still job creation, UPMC offers a fine example of how a nonprofit can help drive the regional economy. I'm curious as to why so few H-1B visas are issued to nonprofits while IT companies are begging for increased quotas. I will send an e-mail to our Johnny-on-the-spot, Richard Herman and find out if he knows the skinny.

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