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.

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Rob Sanchez

'The first to go will be the expensive Americans.'

I went to the University of Texas at El Paso, received a B.S. in electrical engineering, and worked for eight years at [a global communications corporation] in Scottsdale, Ariz., until I was laid off in 1988. There were huge cuts in defense spending, and more than 50% of the engineers at the company lost their jobs.

Then I put in five years at [a medical circuit manufacturer] as a test engineer before I moved on to [a large government contractor], helping design test equipment, firmware and software for a GUI interface.

I was working late one Friday night when I overheard some young engineers two cubicles away say an H-1B was coming in on Monday. I knew I was a dead man walking. The workforce there was very young, mostly under 30, and high-tech companies tend to hire young and fire old.

Sure enough, I got the axe, and the H-1B got my job. The type of job I was doing was fairly unique, but there's no question they could have found another American.

The second time, I was working alongside an H-1B holder from Russia at a small start-up in Phoenix that has since gone out of business. He was a real nice guy. We got along fine. Everybody knew the company operated on a shoestring -- they got me pretty cheap, because I was getting sort of desperate with all the layoffs in the industry and the corporate takeovers, but they got him cheaper.

I was doing software for a telephone communications system for them. The investors were hoping to be able to sell the company. They were dreaming of a gargantuan payoff, but when companies passed on buying it, we all knew there were going to be massive cuts. When companies are cutting their budgets, the first to go will be the expensive Americans, and that's what happened.

What's harder to detect than being out-and-out replaced by an H-1B worker is when you don't even get job offers because there's such a vast pool of H-1Bs that you're competing against. I've gone in for interviews that were clearly meaningless. They were mock interviews just so they could meet their labor requirements. They would tap the shoulder of some junior engineer to interview you for five minutes. It's just about sharing a common culture and language -- an H-1B manager is going to be more comfortable hiring other H-1Bs.

I went through the whole re-education thing at a local community college, but it didn't pay off too well -- I got one temporary job out of it. As you get older, you can go and get those skills, but employers will say, "I can hire a 22-year-old or an H-1B; why should I hire this guy in a saturated job market?"

I have a passion for engineering, and I thought I could maintain my career for the rest of my life, but realistically, my career is over. I'm making payments on the electricity, paying to keep my computer going, but my medical copays are going up. I'm definitely feeling squeezed.

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