H-1B: The voices behind the visa

The H-1B visa is such a heated topic, its impact on individual high-tech workers often gets lost in the debate. Here, five people tell their H-1B stories in their own words.

This article is part of our special report on the 20th anniversary of the H-1B visa, which also includes an in-depth look at the H-1B's role in American IT, as well as visual and interactive tools to help you analyze H-1B visa data.

Twenty years into its existence, the controversial H-1B visa for foreign workers in specialty occupations shows no signs of inciting less discord as it ages.

This month alone, debate over whether foreigners are taking jobs from American high-tech workers drove election debate in several key states and framed coverage of Barack Obama's state visit to India, the chief exporter of H-1B workers to the U.S.

The H-1B discussion is always heated and sometimes worse -- racist, elitist, subjective or just plain ugly. Between the minutiae of federal immigration policy debate and the inflamed rhetoric from both proponents and opponents, what's often lost are the stories of real people whose lives have been directly affected by the guest worker visa program.

Computerworld took aim at that imbalance by seeking out IT workers, both international and domestic, who were willing to talk about how H-1B has influenced their livelihoods for better or for ill. To protect their jobs, most of our sources requested anonymity, which we granted after verifying their credentials independently.

What follows are their perceptions of their H-1B experiences, told in their own words. We condensed and edited their opinions for brevity and clarity but did not independently corroborate every claim.

[Related: Read more about the past, present and future of H-1B, or view maps and data showing the geographic concentration of 2009 H-1B visa applications for tech jobs as a heat map, by city or as a searchable, sortable database.]

Madhav B.

'If we stopped H-1B, IT would crash.'

I am in the United States on an H-1B. My green card is under process. I originally came on an F-1 student visa.

I did my master's at Texas State University. As an international student, you pay three times the tuition for public university. In India, even if your parents are solvent, you don't ask them for money once you are an adult.

I worked very hard for my master's. I decided in my mind, you have to be top in the university. I had a research assistantship and a dean's scholarship and published three papers before I graduated.

Once my OPT (optional practical training) was done, it took me some time to find a job. An aerospace corporation was interested, but I was told by HR that they no longer hired international students. The policy changed after 9/11. I had no complaint. Those are the rules and regulations, and we have to follow them.

[A federal research center] considered hiring me as well, but it was denied. They were having a recession and couldn't [justify putting] international students in those programs.

I had some calls from [a global processor corporation] to go and do coding, but that was not acceptable to me. I am a designer and a researcher. My specialty is in speech processing, digital signal processing.

Finally I got a job, at [a worldwide software and services corporation], and later at [a global vendor of software and hardware systems]. Very briefly after that I went back to India, but I was soon hankering for change. In India, at a midmanagement level, you have no power to bring about change. So I came back.

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