Readers' Views on Techies' Language Skills, H-1B Visas and Free Markets (6 letters)

There’s no doubt the e-mail writer to whom Don Tennant refers in his editorial "A Wake-up Call" [Opinions, Jan. 15] is not the most erudite, but the messages I’ve seen authored by H-1B visa holders show that neither citizens nor immigrant workers have a lock on poor language skills. Besides, e-mail has become the medium of poorly written missives.

To judge an individual’s merits based on a few lines of text smacks of snobbery. And to use this to establish a thesis on quality and the assumption that American workers don’t embody it is overly simplistic. In fact, it’s been my experience that most technical people are generally poor writers.

The writer of that e-mail voiced perfectly valid concerns about the H-1B situation, regardless of the fact that he expressed himself without stylistic class.

I work with numerous H-1B visa holders, and several things are clear: Their jobs could be filled by U.S. workers of equal skill; the system is abused by employers who are looking for indentured servants; visa holders are often champing at the bit to get out from under the H-1B yoke; and many visa requests come from former H-1B visa holders who have acquired their green cards through the sponsoring company.

I’m not an isolationist. In fact, I’m a free marketer who believes in open and fair competition. The H-1B system, however, is anticompetitive and creates a class of employee that is ripe for abuse by corporations whose only motivation is trimming the bottom line.

Instead of the current H-1B visa, a more open immigration system needs to be established that allows people with valuable skills the opportunity to easily establish legal residence in order to compete fairly in the employment marketplace. Until such a thing happens, the existing format will be used by organizations for the import of cheap labor.

Phil Steinschneider

Senior software engineer
Sterling, Va.

I often have to communicate with what Tennant calls “the brightest and best from all over the world,” and while I can at least understand what the guy he quoted was saying, I can’t say the same for them. I also don’t buy the argument that communication skills are the reason American IT workers are losing their jobs to foreign workers. My company has outsourced many of its IT jobs. Our own management has told us that this is not about our performance, but about the money.

Craig Temby
Howell, Mich.

As more companies hire more and more H-1B visa holders, displacing Americans from their jobs, the brightest in future generations will not go into high-tech and engineering careers. Then the colleges and universities will discontinue computer and engineering studies because of a lack of enrollment.

The H-1B program was supposed to bring in individuals with extraordinary skills and advanced educations, not average workers.

Howard Eichenwald
Overland Park, Kan.

I am against the H-1B visa program, but we need to let go of the misperception that somehow we would be better off if only we could keep foreigners from taking our jobs. This is not a zero-sum game. If the work we perform has value, it increases the need for that work. Bringing in more foreign workers will likely increase the demand, both foreign and domestic. But we should accept all the immigrant professionals who can find a job, and let them come and go as they please.

I am an embedded-software consultant, self-employed by choice. As I struggle to build a business, I am envious of the income levels of H-1B engineers doing the same work. But I hope one day to be sufficiently successful to become the one looking for talent. If that time comes, I will be looking for performance and value, not origin.

If wages are the compelling factor, then we should be demanding increases in H-1B allotments rather than watching our jobs get outsourced to India, Singapore and China, where competent technical professionals are available for 10 cents on the dollar. Rather than watch as technical jobs migrate to foreign countries, we should bring the best and the brightest from the rest of the world here. If they stay, we win. If they leave, most will become key figures in their own nations.

David H. Lynch Jr. Owner
DLA Systems
Lititz, Pa.

I do not believe we have a tech worker shortage in this country, but that doesn’t mean I believe in absolute protectionism, either. Someone needs to bring a realistic proposal to the debate. We cannot shut our borders, but we should not tolerate the status quo, either.

I worked for a year in England through a program that is similar to our H-1B status in the U.S. The company for which I worked needed to show that no local talent was available to fill the post. To do that, they carefully crafted the job description so that no one else could possibly fit the bill. The problem with that arrangement — and others like it — is that I worked for a relatively low wage, and my work status was tied specifically to that company.

Similarly, H-1B visas must be sponsored by companies. Companies practically own their H-1B personnel, since they cannot jump to a better-paid position without first having the other company sponsor their visa. If we untied the permit from the company and allowed these visa holders free run in the market as we do our own citizens, we would quickly find that there is no low-cost incentive for companies to hire foreign workers.

Ben Weinberger
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

I agree with Tennant. Excellence in all we do is required to stay at the top of our game in IT. After 20 years in IT, I still avail myself of technical training and the continuous pursuit of knowledge. I know I have more to offer than an outsourced alternative, but I also know that I have to know more and offer more to remain competitive. I think disgruntled IT people refuse to admit that they have to sharpen their skills to remain competitive. Salespeople have always known this. It’s high time IT people got competitive instead of licking their wounds.

Marcia Wilson
Sparks, Nev.


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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