by Howard Fosdick May 2019
The market for IT labor is a worldwide market. Foreign competition affects your salary – and even whether you can get a job.
The laws our government passes pertaining to this foreign competition shape your career. These laws frequently change and can impact your work life big time. They might even affect your career more than how good you are at your job.
Messin’ With a Profession
The H-1B law mandates how many foreign IT workers can enter the U.S. Workers apply for a three year H-1B visa that can be extended for a second three years. The maximum number or “cap” of yearly IT visas varies, depending on the whim of federal lawmakers.
You’ll often see charts showing the annual number of H-1B visas. Much more important is how many foreign IT workers are in the country at any time.
chart courtesy of Fortune magazine
Given that there are about 3.5 to 4 million workers involved in software development jobs in the United States, the half-million-plus visa holders shown above directly affect your salary. Their presence might even determine whether you can get a job. Add in recipients of similar visas like the L-1, and roughly 15% of our domestic IT workforce consists of visa holders.*
The H-1B law supposedly protects domestic IT professionals. It doesn’t. As an IT consultant, I’ve never seen a single shop where visa workers don’t make less money and aren’t used as a cudgel against American workers.
Many companies use H-1B as a tool to outsource and eliminate American jobs entirely.
Don’t blame the H-1B holders. They just want to work hard and earn a living like we do. They didn’t make the rules. Anti-foreigner sentiment is completely inappropriate.
Blame corporate management that sells jobs to foreigners with no concern for their fellow citizens. Blame our lawmakers who please corporate lobbies seeking cheap labor with little concern for the American workforce.
The H-1B program is rife with corruption:
* Employers use it to limit IT salaries and outsource American jobs
* Fraud is common
* Employers exploit lesser-known related visas to surreptitiously expand the scope of the program
* American workers are often forced to train the foreign workers who replace them
* Visa holders sometimes suffer abuse (from lower salaries to terrible working/living conditions)
Three-quarters of H-1B’s are Indian nationals. Most return to India to build up that country’s IT sector to compete with America’s own.
No wonder India’s former commerce secretary called H-1B the “outsourcing visa!” With our own government’s assistance, India’s developer population is on track to overtake ours by 2023!
What To Do?
Companies and their lobbyists claim we need H-1B workers because there’s a shortage of domestic IT talent. Baloney. Importing labor lowers salaries and slows the growth of the domestic IT workforce. Who wants to enter a profession driven by government fiat? A profession where corporations wield the law to limit salaries?
It’s not about whether there are sufficient numbers of qualified American IT workers. It’s about whether there are enough of them at the reduced wages corporations want to pay.
Corporate apologists claim we need H-1B because it allows in a few highly gifted entrepreneurs who start companies and grow jobs. But there’s already a specific visa program for that! It’s called the O-1 visa. Lobbyists make this misleading argument to protect a program that lowers wages.
Some argue that IT professionals should organize so that government policy is not driven solely by employers. But in the thirty year lifespan of the H-1B program this hasn’t happened yet. Lobbies drive Congress, and all the powerful ones represent corporate interests, not yours.
My advice: look out for yourself. Gaining a clear-eyed understanding how the IT labor market works is step one.
* Estimates vary but this reasonable based on multiple sources. Not all H-1B visas are for IT workers. OTOH, other visa programs add more IT workers.