Video: The real story behind the H-1B visa program

The program itself is complex, but what you need to know is simple

The vast majority of people who work in IT did everything right: They invested in their education, studied difficult subjects, kept their skills updated. They own homes, raise families and look to the future.

But no job is safe, no future entirely secure -- something IT workers know more than most. Given their role, they are most often the change agents, the people who deploy technologies and bring in automation that can turn workplaces upside down. To survive, they count on being smart, self-reliant and one step ahead.

Into that mix of dedication and hope comes the H-1B visa program. It allows a limited number of high-skilled foreign workers to work at U.S. companies. But over the years it has also become a way for companies to outsource jobs.

When a company decides to outsource IT jobs overseas, there is no protection for U.S. workers. Professional accomplishments are irrelevant. Degrees -- whether in computer science, mathematics, or in some field that has allowed them to figure technology out -- do not matter. The internal awards of merit, the five-star performance reviews are meaningless. The unpaid hours, at nights and on weekends, make no difference. The workplace turns cold, hostile, indifferent. Often, substantial numbers of IT workers leave. Sometimes entire departments are gone.

Here's how it usually unfolds: A U.S. company will bring in IT services contractors. These contractors, more often than not, bring in H-1B visa-holding workers. The replacement training begins with web conferences with workers overseas, then it shifts to the office. The system may seem insulting, such as when workers are prohibited from asking the contractors any questions. A foreign worker will sit in a cubicle and watch what the IT worker does, then they switch roles. What may have once been diverse IT department gradually becomes less so.

Over the years, I've interviewed scores of IT workers who trained their visa-holding replacements. Though details each time may differ, they all tell the same basic story.

There are many issues around high-skilled immigration, but to grasp the issue fully you need to understand how the H-1B program can affect American workers.

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