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Is it time to end the H-1B visa?

Source | LinkedIn : By Nishant Bhajaria

With a new administration in town, there is growing buzz around changes in America’s immigration policies.

I suspect, as is usually the case, most promises made last year will end up as political backwash once the champagne is half consumed and the cup of joy no longer runneth over.

The most visible promise from our new president was to build a wall that would protect our southern border from illegal immigrants.

There are, however, other immigration issues that affect the American workforce that could use some attention. An example of these issues is the H-1B work visa.

For background purposes, the H-1B visa is a temporary visa obtained for foreign workers by U.S. companies.

  • There are 65,000 visas available annually, plus an additional 20,000, to be eligible for which a foreigner must have completed a Masters degree from a U.S college.
  • The intent of this visa, when it was created in 1990, was to import workers with special skills that were in short supply among the native workforce.

These visas have been extremely controversial since the first dot-com bubble burst.

For the 2015 fiscal year, the U.S. government received 172,000(!) applications within the first 5 days of the eligibility window opening.

As a foreign student in 2003, I remember Lou Dobbs, who was once Wall Street’s de facto spokesperson, reporting in his Exporting America series how H-1B visas were part of the larger outsourcing wave designed to exploit the American middle class by depressing wages.

Now, as an American citizen, I read stories where workers allege (with at least some justification, it many cases) that they were fired by their erstwhile employer and replaced by foreign workers using H-1B visas.

According to Computerworld, the visa has become a vehicle for outsourcing jobs outside the U.S. In 2012, foreign outsourcing companies scooped up half of the available visas and fewer than 3% of applicants went on to become permanent residents, and instead took the skills and jobs with them to their countries of origin.

When I was looking for a company in 2003 that would sponsor an H-1B for me, I was contacted by a tech company based out of Fremont, CA. After passing their tech screening, they advised that they’d offer me a role as soon as they found a client to employ me.

They also told me that they’d “polish” my resume. As it turned out, my “polished” resume was such a work of fiction it would have made J.K. Rowling proud. Their version of my resume claimed I had 10 years of experience in C++ (reality: 3 years), I’d worked on C# for 3 years (the language had not existed for that long then), and several other demonstrable lies.

I declined the job and never called them again. That company still does business in the valley under a different name and the folks I talked to back then are still around too.

So, the problems with the visa are not in the eyes of the beholder.

That said, before canceling the visa or reforming it, understanding some other realities is important. Given that I started as a foreign student, held an H-1B for a short while, then a green card and finally became a U.S. citizen without ever breaking the law, misrepresenting or dissembling, I feel I have a contribution to make in this debate.

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