Join 3,374 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Airing the Immigration Bill's Dirty Laundry
December 12, 2013 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Undercover of helping immigrant agricultural workers who have long needed a break in America, the American technology sector - lead by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg - has seen fit to heavily lobby Congress to increase H1-B and other worker visa permits, vastly increasing H1-B visas at a time when very good research shows that there is no shortage of tech workers in America. Zuckerberg has so far succeeded, in the Senate. What is motivating the claim for more H1-B visas and what's at stake?

previously

One of the most respected technology pundits in Silicon Valley has this to say about the H1-B worker problem and Two H1-B's walk into a Bar: More on the H1-B visa problem

One of many examples of what goes on behind closed doors: an immigration attorney and his consultants teaching corporations how to manipulate foreign-worker immigration law to replace qualified American workers.

H1-B's are only the tip of the iceberg; there are more than 20 categories of foreign worker visas.

Professor Norman Matloff's extremely well documented studies on the H1-B and foreign worker visa problem. Matloff claims that Hi-B abuse has cost Americans $10Trillion dollars, since 1975. Inc. Magazine weights in
Professor Matloff's Webpage

Mother Jones weighs in:How H1-B visa abuse is hurting American tech workers

Marc Zuckerberg and other wealthy tech scions - including large immigration law firms and corporation who profit from importing H1-B's continue to perpetuate this trend

How H1-B malpractice hurts the American economy

Most of the new crop of H1-Bs is coming from one of the most corrupt university systems in the world.

Indian government officials are not happy that the universities that they collude with might have some limitations placed on the abuses that have enabled them to "sell" their product to the American IT sector.

How the new immigration bill could ignite a trade war with India

How to underpay an H1-B worker
posted by Vibrissae (131 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Commentary from the popular culture.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:37 PM on December 12, 2013


There is of course a shortage of technology workers in America (that are willing to work massive overtime for insultingly low salaries). Therefore, the leaders of the major tech companies are lobbying congress to help give the market a bit more of a boost (by protecting the companies from the very market forces that are driving up salaries).

These companies will do all they can to be fair in a fair market (or, barring that, lay claim to free market sloganeering while actually seeking to undermine it when it means, heaven forbid, they might have to pay their workers more or not work them 80 hour weeks).
posted by chimaera at 2:38 PM on December 12, 2013 [18 favorites]


related: Royal Bank of Canada replaces Canadian staff with foreign workers
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:41 PM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


My impressions as a foreigner and a tech worker:
1) boy are a lot of people trying to recruit me right now, and boy is [major company where I work] having a lot of trouble filling its open positions.
2) boy are recruiters I've talked to lately happy when they find out I, a foreign sounding person, do not require a visa and am in fact a permanent resident.
3) there seems to be a weird xenophobic aspect to a lot of these links that I am uncomfortable with.
posted by Artw at 2:42 PM on December 12, 2013 [55 favorites]


Whenever I hear a company cry poverty and talk about jobs "American's won't do" or "there aren't enough Americans to fill" I hear a company that doesn't want to pay the amount or provide the work conditions the market is demanding they do. So they go to the government to codify their flawed business model into law.
posted by chimaera at 2:42 PM on December 12, 2013 [35 favorites]


Given how much Microsoft pays me, I find it hard to imagine that they have a problem with "market rates".
posted by Slothrup at 2:45 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is of course a shortage of technology workers in America (that are willing to work massive overtime for insultingly low salaries).

The last temp job I took was $9.25/hr. I recently worked a 48 hour week and was angry when they cut off my overtime so I could not work the planned 63 hour week.

The full time tech job I recently applied for at that same company went to an H1-B worker. I was not even called for an interview. The company is the largest employer of H1-B workers in the area, except for the University.

The H1-B visa program was originally intended for one category of workers: foreign language instructors at Universities, and other culturally related jobs that basically required people who grew up in foreign countries and had knowledge that could not be obtained in the US. Due to the abuses of this program and glut of applicants, I saw my friends who were language professors and Japanese nationals, have extreme difficulty obtaining their H1-B visas in a timely manner, resulting in their being passed over for good job assignments, and ending up taking whatever they can get.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:49 PM on December 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Speaking as an foreigner in a STEM industry (now with a green card), I wish people would lay off the, oh they only want to hire foreigners so they can work them to death with overtime. I find this attitude, frankly, condescending and insulting, like the only reason an American company might want to hire a foreigner is because they can get cheap labor. This is very far from my experience in my current STEM field, as well as in academia. Often there was an extremely qualified foreign national who wouldn't be able to take up a position because of random visa-related reasons.
posted by peacheater at 2:54 PM on December 12, 2013 [21 favorites]


So, H1-B visas and guest worker programs and all the rest are clearly special exceptions to our immigration policies that benefit specific industries with clout. No argument.

But ... our immigration policies suck. They're horrible. We should want lots of immigrants, high-skilled and otherwise. That would be great for this country.

So the hell with H1-Bs. Let everyone in.
posted by feckless at 2:56 PM on December 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


As a former "foreign worker" (Canadian in the USA under NAFTA TN status), I got tired of the insultingly low wakes ($60k/year in 2005) and went back north to Canada where I could make 50% more and not have to worry about health care.

WORKERS OF THE AMERICAN WORLD, UNITE! THROW OFF YOUR CHAINS, MOVE NORTH AND ENJOY OUR PSEUDO-SOCIALIST POUTINE!
posted by blue_beetle at 2:58 PM on December 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


As a foreign, (former) H1-B tech worker, my experience echoes all of this:

My impressions as a foreigner and a tech worker:
1) boy are a lot of people trying to recruit me right now, and boy is [major company where I work] having a lot of trouble filling its open positions.
2) boy are recruiters I've talked to lately happy when they find out I, a foreign sounding person, do not require a visa and am in fact a permanent resident.
3) there seems to be a weird xenophobic aspect to a lot of these links that I am uncomfortable with.

posted by sparklemotion at 2:58 PM on December 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


I always have mixed feelings about things like this because I generally think that labor should be able to move wherever the hell they want and that borders are largely nonsense. But then, I don't like corporations exploiting labor, and that seems to happen with this program.
posted by klangklangston at 2:58 PM on December 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Isn't it amazing how many people can see socialist plots and new world orders and false flag operations, but they can't see the right-out-in the-open-in-front-of-their-stinking-eyes shit sandwich they are being served every day by American business? "Not enough qualified native IT workers" is a brazen fucking lie, and everyone knows it.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:02 PM on December 12, 2013 [26 favorites]


There's seem to be oddly little discussion of the viewpoints of non-US workers in the links (apart from negative suggestions that they are abusing the system etc.)

Anyway, just to clarify:

1) H1-Bs are not just for tech sector workers. They're for workers with an advanced degree ( master's or above) from an accredited US University in any specialty and employed in any sector. The field of the degree has to match the role the worker is going for.

2) It's weird to see H1-Bs described as "outsourcing visas" in the links. They are dual-purpose visas - i.e. You can hold one with an intent to immigrate to the US ( but don't have to) . H1-Bs are commonly seen as a pathway to getting a Green Card for permanent residency, and eventual US citizenship.

3) Perhaps there is,as some suggest, a glut of tech workers in the US in general with low pay long hours jobs with little prospect of advancement being common. But this is not the prevailing case in Silicon Valley ( apart from the long hours)

4) I'm not sure why having over 20 categories of foreign worker visa is supposed to be a shocking scary headline. US visa law is very convoluted and complex and bureaucratic. The different visa categories are for everything from au pairs and seasonal fruit pickers to artists and nurses to wealthy entrepreneurs and investors and CEOs. There is a separate category if you are the spouse of another visa holders. Different visas mean different bureaucratic processes and rules for particular occupational areas. They are not H1-B equivalents.

If the H1-B system is being abused with by tech outsourcing companies, that's not really an argument for reducing the H1-B cap ( the outsourcing companies will just work within the cap). It's an argument for better policing of the system so that the original intent of the H1-B dual-purpose system is protected. This would be for the benefit of H1-B applicants who properly aim to become US citizens as well ( they have to worry less about abusive outsourcing companies eating up a chunk of the yearly quota) .
posted by Bwithh at 3:06 PM on December 12, 2013 [18 favorites]


FWIW, I, too, believe that labor should be free to move. But this isn't that; this is an end-run at holding wages down. I also believe that one can be against increasing H1-Bs without being xenophobic in the least.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:09 PM on December 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


Isn't there a /. post about age discrimination, tech companies not retraining anybody, etc. every couple weeks, Artw? All those jobs go unfilled because tech hiring broke, not because the people don't exist.

Imho, we should adopt the immigration regime credited to Switzerland that goes roughly : Hire anyone you like for any job you like, but only after proving you'll pay them above average for their job duties.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:12 PM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


FWIW, I, too, believe that labor should be free to move. But this isn't that; this is an end-run at holding wages down. I also believe that one can be against increasing H1-Bs without being xenophobic in the least.

So yeah, you don't actually believe that labor should be free to move, then. For totally non xenophobic reasons. The weird thing here is that the result looks identical to the xenophobe's result.

Last time I heard, IT related industry is still projected to be a pretty high growth area. Which makes would seem to strengthen the case for increasing H1B visas.

Frankly, the problem with H1B kind of schemes is that they are temporary. And they are limited in number.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:15 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The company I work for (Nuclear/Plasma) had had tremendous difficulty finding citizens to do certain specialized work. Any time I've personally encountered H1-B hiring is for people with extremely valuable, specialized skills who deserve citizenship more then 90% of the people in America.
posted by Dmenet at 3:19 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Free to move, and an artificially contrived and protected incentive to move are two different things.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:19 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Having worked for several companies headquartered in SV, and having been involved in hiring people down there, I can say we did have problems finding qualified software developers and QA. I can't say whether the issue was the pay, because we didn't list the pay on the job posting (plus we paid competitively). I'm not sure it was the hours/work balance either. We just didn't have that many applicants, and the ones we did talk to mainly bombed out in the technical interview. We didn't get as far as discussing the work culture.

We weren't looking for a perfect rare set of skills and experience, either. For example, if we needed a UNIX C/C++ person, we would get embedded developers who would design things to run about the slowest way possible (but with very few lines of code and low memory usage), or people who had done C/C++ in college and never again, or people who knew the languages but couldn't answer basic questions about processes, sockets, etc in UNIX.

In a perfect world, maybe we would hire somebody with a different set of skills and train them for 6 months or a year, but the amount of pay we were offering, and our deadlines that we had to remain competitive, precluded that. Plus I'm not 100% sure that's the solution. In this industry, there are certain things that can take a developer years to get right.

These were both small and big/well-known companies, but nothing related to social media, and not household-name dot-coms.

Are the glut of STEM workers mentioned in the IEEE piece mostly not software engineers?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:20 PM on December 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Free to move, and an artificially contrived and protected incentive to move are two different things.

Thus the perfect must be the enemy of the good.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:21 PM on December 12, 2013


"The average US citizen would be better off if a larger number of highly educated foreign workers were legally allowed to immigrate to the US each year."

Strongly agree: 39%
Agree: 50%
Uncertain: 5%
posted by dsfan at 3:21 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


3) there seems to be a weird xenophobic aspect to a lot of these links that I am uncomfortable with.

Bingo!

I really question the inclusion of some of these links. I don't know what 'Economy in Crisis' is, but it doesn't pass the sniff test.
posted by hoyland at 3:22 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The H1-B visa program was originally intended for one category of workers: foreign language instructors at Universities, and other culturally related jobs that basically required people who grew up in foreign countries and had knowledge that could not be obtained in the US. Due to the abuses of this program and glut of applicants, I saw my friends who were language professors and Japanese nationals, have extreme difficulty obtaining their H1-B visas in a timely manner, resulting in their being passed over for good job assignments, and ending up taking whatever they can get.

Sorry, I'm not sure where this idea comes from but the text of the 1990 Act which first created the H-1B visa is clearly not just for foreign language instructors or foreign culture experts. Those specific kinds of roles are not mentioned at all. The legislation's text is explicitly broader:

" (2) Specialty occupation defined.--Section 214, as amended by section 202(a) and subsections (a) and (b), is further amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:


"(i)(1) For purposes of section 101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b) and paragraph (2), the term 'specialty occupation' means an occupation that requires--


"(A) theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge, and


"(B) attainment of a bachelor's [NOTE : this was later raised to master's] or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States. "
posted by Bwithh at 3:22 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The editorializing in this post blaming Zuckerberg is either faulty logic or deliberately misleading. At a time when most Silicon Valley companies are doing everything they can to attract talent, are we expected to believe that Facebook wants more H1-B's so that they can underpay?
posted by Idle Curiosity at 3:22 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Essentially, the H1-B is part of how companies are paying their employees. By creating more of them, the US is essentially subsidizing that labor... subsidizing jobs that are not actually going to US citizens. At a time when a lot of US citizens are out of work. If you can't find the people in SF who will take what you want to pay, move to Detroit or Cleveland and actually do some training. We don't have a shortage of labor in the US right now. Once we do, I'm fine with helping companies find it elsewhere. That day is not today.

Eventually the industry is going to have to realize that you can't always hire a person with the precise skillset you're looking for, that people don't spring into existence with a fully-formed set of skills, training is a necessary part of the equation.

The average US citizen would be better off if the average US citizen was able to become highly educated and paid accordingly. It's only giving up on that that makes any other option palatable.
posted by Sequence at 3:23 PM on December 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


Not enough qualified native IT workers

I'm curious where these magic workers are, because as someone who does a lot of interviews I don't see them. Its possible they are all filtered out before they get to me, but not terribly likely in my experience.

I don't see how its possible to get an accurate count though: do people who come up with counts of "qualified" tech workers do interviews? Because if you just go off who claims to be in the sector or resumes you'll get a wildly inflated number. The amount of people with solid looking resumes who can't do CS 101 level stuff (basic loops, simple data structures --- not complicated "Google/MS" level questions, I'm talking about people who fail out wayyyy before that stuff) is huge.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:23 PM on December 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Also, the big companies promoting this stuff pay _really well_, so I don't buy the underpay argument. Benefits and pay are still increasing, not decreasing, at these companies.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:24 PM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thus the perfect must be the enemy of the good.

Not at all. I didn't say that the H1-B program was evil. I said that I don't buy the arguments for increasing it.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:25 PM on December 12, 2013


The issue isn't immigration. The issue is the crapness of the H1-B for immigrants results in downward pressure for citizens.

There really isn't a better example of the downsides of having an underclass than this deliberate policy of creating one.
posted by srboisvert at 3:28 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm curious where these magic workers are, because as someone who does a lot of interviews I don't see them.

Do you post a salary range for open jobs? Is that salary range attractive? Drop a nice salary into your requisition and watch some of those magic workers start showing up. But then, you might not get a slam-dunk smart hard worker for a fraction of market rate that way.
posted by chimaera at 3:28 PM on December 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't buy that there's a skills shortage in the US. However, I do buy the idea that tech workers naively refuse to organize (temporarily embarrassed millionaires that we are), and at some point those chickens are coming home to roost.
posted by mullingitover at 3:29 PM on December 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


Drop a nice salary into your requisition and watch some of those magic workers start showing up.

My employer is pretty well known to pay very well and be an attractive place to work, I don't think this is the issue.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:33 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't there a /. post about age discrimination, tech companies not retraining anybody, etc. every couple weeks, Artw? All those jobs go unfilled because tech hiring broke, not because the people don't exist.

Far from it for me to cast aspersions on people complaining on /., but I have some involvement with screening candidates and of there's a glut of these people their resumes are disappearing from the stack somehow, and I don't think the recruiters are doing it.
posted by Artw at 3:34 PM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


people with extremely valuable, specialized skills who deserve citizenship more then 90% of the people in America.

Wow, the notion that one can be unworthy of citizenship is truly frightening.
posted by klanawa at 3:36 PM on December 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


klanawa - That is a deliberately disingenuous, fighty, bullshit misreading of the post you quoted and you damn well know it.
posted by Riemann at 3:38 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


H1-B's cost an arm and leg, often have terrible language issues, and will frequently bolt back home with learned skills. You think software folks are hiring these people because they want to?

There just are not enough good programmers to go around. Talk to anyone who's had to hire an H1-B. It's always the last ditch option.

This just doesn't pass the sniff test. "Therree cooming fer my jobs" style xenophobia straight up and down.
posted by PissOnYourParade at 3:38 PM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


... who deserve citizenship more then 90% of the people in America.

Deserve has nothing to do with anything. You know why rights are called rights, right?

That is a deliberately disingenuous, fighty, bullshit misreading of the post you quoted and you damn well know it.

That was how it looked to me, whatever was intended.
posted by mhoye at 3:39 PM on December 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


I didn't say that the H1-B program was evil. I said that I don't buy the arguments for increasing it.

Thus, the perfect must be the enemy of the good. Whatever faults may be with the H1B system, it still allows a finite number of people from other countries to utilize their skills better than they can in their native land.

Yours is still a curious line of thinking, however. If you don't buy the argument for increasing H1B numbers, how do you still claim to believe that labor should be free to move? Because the same arguments can apply under the free movement scenario. But now unlimited in number, duration, and specialty.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:45 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Alright, I'm currently working in academia, not the tech sector, Artw, so obviously I know only what I read. All my personal friends who hire tech people work for tech startups were they want fairly flexible people. And I'd never large companies like facebook to hire like startups do. I always assumed the age discrimination thing came from 40 year olds who knew a handful of languages well, wanted a large stable company, but got passed over by hiring people wanting specific check boxes not on their resume.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:56 PM on December 12, 2013


I can't comment on IT as a whole (a term so broad as to be useless; it would be like using the same label to cover an unskilled day-laborer and a master cabinet maker) but in software development (programming, test and program management) there are a few things people should keep in mind:

1) It's not that less skilled workers are just less productive. They are actively harmful to a project. It is very easy for someone less skilled to actually produce negative work. This is very much unlike the experience people have in many other industries and so they write it off as "not making sense" (read: does not conform with my biases bases on life experience). This is not a case where the less skilled workers just produce / sell / manage 10% or 50% or 75% less than a good employee. The work they do is so destructive so as to make the organization as a whole less productive than if they had never hired anyone. This is very much a field where not every ones labor is of equal value and the labor of many is of negative value.

2) Depending on the project involved, a good hire takes 2-12 months to train up. That is a good hire. In all the places I've worked there is a hell of a lot of on the job training going on. But you need a good grounding in the basics to even be able to understand the job specific training. It works very much like math in that respect. You can't take someone with a basic knowledge of arithmetic and start teaching them something like this (a subject which is itself only basic undergrad stuff) out of the blue. They won't have the proper grounding. Also, for whatever reason (teaching methods? temperament? random chance? gremlins?) only a minority of people who on paper seemingly have the base skills needed to learn programming can actually do so. I have no idea why and it is worrying to me. But the fact is there. It's like if for some unknown reason only about 1/3rd of the population could, when presented with a hammer and a nail, actually attach two pieces of wood together no matter how much training was provided.

3) Again, no idea about this mythical "IT" as a whole but for people in my field salaries and benefits are good. Regular raises are the norm even during bad times in the economy. We get nice bonuses and such. Sure, you can fill a position by offering way above market rates (think $200k+ per year) but all you are doing there is poaching an employee from a similar company in your field who now has an opening to fill of their own.
posted by Riemann at 3:57 PM on December 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


It seems to me there's a pretty serious shortage of physicians in this country. Last time I tried to hire one, I offered an insanely generous $100,000 a year -- and I didn't get a single applicant!

The point is, it's impossible for their to be a "shortage" of workers in a free market economy. Someone is always willing to do the work, at the right price. If you don't want to pay that price, then you turn to the government and beg for cheap foreign imports....
posted by miyabo at 3:58 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


miyabo - suppose you offered enough money to hire that physician. Unless that person was previously unemployed or working in a different field there is still exactly the name number of unfilled physician jobs in the economy.
posted by Riemann at 4:00 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The point is, it's impossible for their to be a "shortage" of workers in a free market economy.

That's not true at all. People aren't fungible, and skilled labor of any kind isn't ditch-digging. You might as well be saying there can't be starvation in a free-market economy, just people unwilling to pay enough to eat when there's a food shortage.
posted by mhoye at 4:02 PM on December 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


It seems to me there's a pretty serious shortage of physicians in this country. Last time I tried to hire one, I offered an insanely generous $100,000 a year -- and I didn't get a single applicant!

There aren't a lot of markets less free than that for physicians. Anyway, this is (perhaps inadvertently) an excellent example of why economists generally argue in favor of high-skilled immigration: Yes, admitting more foreign doctors might lower wages for doctors, but lower wages for doctors means lower costs for consumers of medicine (i.e., everyone else). Similarly, even if increased immigration in tech fields lowers wages for native workers, Americans as a whole benefit from the products they build, and from the relatively high taxes they pay (naturally, the newly-admitted workers also benefit).
posted by dsfan at 4:04 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The point is, it's impossible for their to be a "shortage" of workers in a free market economy.

What? That's not true at all. There are not an unlimited number of qualified workers. Whether "qualified" means having passed years of medical school and residency, or having certain programming experience and being able to pass a test.

Yes, as one company, we could offer $250k+ or whatever for all of our open positions, and we would fill them. But if every company did that, no, they still would not fill all of their open positions.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:05 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The real problem is the over-breadth of the general immigrant work visa programs (including but not limited to H1-B) and the narrowness of extraordinary talent visa programs.

The talent that Facebook needs, that places like my shop need, is in demand globally. Every non-citizen who can hire in to these places is not being exploited, is not taking the job of a similarly talented American, and if they can't be hired here, will be hired in London or Hong Kong and deprive America and American citizens of vast amount of collateral value in salaries, tax revenue, spending, etc. The only question we should have about such visas for people with six figure + compensation and very signficant responsibility is "how quickly can we issue them."

There is an entirely separate set of policy debates about, and there ought to be a completely different process for, commodity mid-skill labor, even if it nominally requires a master degree.
posted by MattD at 4:05 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have nothing against the idea of immigration increasing across the board, and I don't like the implication that it's always about xenophobia. It's just the notion that the only way you can possibly get competent people is to go outside the country, when it's not that you're trying to import, like, the one person in the world who's done extensive research into the mating habits of the Brazilian whatsit for your Brazilian whatsit breeding program. Other fields have accepted that universities suck at teaching practical skills and don't expect new graduates to jump straight in and to have been practicing those skills for free for years before they get their first job.

I interviewed extensively before my first accounting job out of college and was never once asked questions about how to depreciate assets or how to prepare a cash flow statement; they assumed we'd covered it in class but that I was going to need refreshing before I did it. I spent my first year pretty clueless, and then I got better, and I'm still going through ongoing CPE to keep up. (I'm specifically looking to get out of this line of work and I'm STILL training on it so that I don't become incompetent while I'm looking.)

Seriously. Accounting has this problem. We do have some brilliant new grads, and we have a lot that are facepalm kind of embarrassing. But they're trainable if you have reasonable expectations and you supervise them adequately during their first few years. If it can be done in accounting, it can be done in software development.
posted by Sequence at 4:06 PM on December 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


btw, that kind of poaching does happen constantly. If for some reason someone actually wants a job at Google (a deep an abiding need to tweak the interface used to auction search engine ads?) and didn't go to Princeton the quickest way in is to get a job - almost any job - at Microsoft. They'll have google recruiters calling them within a month.
posted by Riemann at 4:07 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are two different environments here.

1) Silicon Valley and other high tech areas: They can't find what they are looking for. They need people who can write code that scales out to thousands of servers, who can write in whatever esoteric language that they come across, who know linux kernel tuning like the back of their hand. They have a skills shortage. Google and Facebook are not underpaying. They may be overworking, but not underpaying

2) The rest of tech. People making crud screens, ERP programmers, I need a corporate app for my medium sized business in Iowa. They also use H1-B, but in order to underpay.

Number 1 wants more H1-B, but 2 takes advantage of it. 1 also is deluged with resumes for people who should be in a number 2 type job. Mainly because everyone shoots for the moon in job requirements, making the two postings look identical, 1 because that's actually what they need, 2 because they are trying to shoot for the moon in order to hit the tree.
posted by zabuni at 4:10 PM on December 12, 2013 [22 favorites]


If you poach employees to fill vacancies, yes, its true that you will be creating vacancies in those companies you poached from. But then, those companies, seeing that their salaries are not competitive, will offer higher salaries, creating vacancies elsewhere, and so on, until it the labor market responds by producing more candidates to fill those vacancies. So if you take into account the behavior of ALL the actors in this scenario, then no, there is no such thing as a long term shortage of labor.

This is similarly why all the stories about education and skills gaps and such are wrong for explaining why the US economy still sucks. If there really were such a skills gap, you would be able to point to SOME group of laborers who do have the right skills, whose wages have grown a LOT recently as competition for those skills has increased.
posted by rustcrumb at 4:12 PM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


What? That's not true at all.

Um... jinx?
posted by mhoye at 4:17 PM on December 12, 2013


If there really were such a skills gap, you would be able to point to SOME group of laborers who do have the right skills, whose wages have grown a LOT recently as competition for those skills has increased.

The people in category (1) as decribed by zabuni (employees of the "top" tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, etc) fall into that pretty well. I thought the late 90's were a good time to be a programmer, but things are way better now pay and benefit wise (even for new hires / recent college grads).

Zabuni described well though that its hard to talk about the "IT" industry because there is almost no relationship between how companies like Google/FB pay and hire and how J Random Company does.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:22 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Startups in general get along well enough selling a bullshit dream without any messing about doing the paperwork for a H1-b - there is a lot that is crappy about startup culture but it is not really relevant to this conversation.
posted by Artw at 4:24 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


One useful thing about startups is the rapid advancement. They are a crazy intense sink-or-swim can of bullshit most of the time but are a way to make up for not having the connections from one of the prestigious schools or not having been born into the aristocracy.

Couple years at a startup can make up for the years lost not being recruited out of college pretty fast when you move on to a job at a good company.
posted by Riemann at 4:30 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd agree with "it's impossible for their to be a 'shortage' of workers" at some level. If you're paying enough, then people learn the skill, including clever kids in university who drop out to fill positions. It's non-linear though, like all supply v demand curves, that's okay.

It's not that less skilled workers are just less productive. They are actively harmful to a project.

Can you elaborate on the mechanics? I'm dubious that such people exist in academic research for example, maybe I know one in comp. sci. and one in math. Research might cull negative contributions faster because the progress occurs through advancing a small group's collective understanding. I've never heard such complaints from computational mathematicians though either, even when writing multi-threaded code that runs across many machines.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:32 PM on December 12, 2013


You've never worked with that one guy who soaks up all your time?
posted by Artw at 4:37 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


When you're doing business software development, a poorly concieved framework or architecture can cost you for years and years. Hell, even some really half-assed stored procedural logic can potentially lead to costly data integrity problems. When it comes to system integration and higher level programming, one person going full steam in the wrong direction can definitely be actively counterproductive and cost a project far more than their work is worth.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:39 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


jeffburdges - a few ways (from personal experience)
1) #hours spent finding, managing and fixing (often by other, less crappy devs) bugs they introduce is greater than the time they spent coding the feature in the first place. These are the insidious ones. They can usually hold on to the job (even if just barely) for a long time because their stuff seems to work at first glance but then becomes a tarpit trying to get it from "pretty much working" to "ready to ship". All the while everyone around them is picking up the pieces.

2) When their code is so hopeless as to need to be entirely rewritten before it can be shipped. At least these people get fired more quickly.

3) As I mentioned even good hires involve many months of training and generally being less productive / getting up to speed. The thing we are all trying to avoid when interviewing people (and it is the norm for candidates to be interviewed by the people who would be their immediate teammates and boss, not faceless HR drones) is giving the thumbs up to someone we will then invest our time in only to have them never be able to get up to speed at all. At first a hopeless hire looks exactly like a good hire who is still learning. Months tick by and they are still struggling with the basics and not improving and it is the worst thing because you know giving them the boot means starting the whole miserable process over again. But eventually they have to go, having contributed a substantial net negative.
posted by Riemann at 4:42 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


this is an end-run at holding wages down

Maybe not necessarily. Wages would be much lower for many of these workers in their home countries. It would be worse for the country if instead of hiring engineers here American companies moved engineering overseas to lower labor costs.
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:43 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


klanawa - That is a deliberately disingenuous, fighty, bullshit misreading of the post you quoted and you damn well know it.

Oh, go on. How many fingers am I holding up?

As to the actual subject at hand, as a so-called IT professional myself, I'm not really concerned about the impact this will have on my salary or employment prospects. The people who are filling these visas are just not (as far as I can tell) having an impact on the kind of work that most CS or SENG grads end up doing. What I am worried about is yet another development in the War on Labour in general. Maybe it's OK for IT people to be protective of their scarcity-provided standards of living, but in my opinion everyone has a responsibility to see that nobody in society is exploited. $60k might be an insulting salary to a North American programmer (I wouldn't take it), but poverty wages for any worker, anywhere should be insulting to everyone.

You've never worked with that one guy who soaks up all your time?

When it comes to system integration and higher level programming, one person going full steam in the wrong direction can definitely be actively counterproductive and cost a project far more than their work is worth.

In my experience, these are usually management problems. Like all trades, workers' skill is on a continuum from should-be-doing-something-else to absolutely brilliant. Part of the role of management is to manage the differential between workers' skill levels. Maybe there's a tendency among lay people to think that all programmers are brilliant (there is certainly a tendency among programmers to think this), but most programming work is like hanging drywall or sweating a joint. It's not that challenging.
posted by klanawa at 4:43 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


They may be overworking, but not underpaying.

Overworking is underpaying. The function relating hours people are willing to work to salary generally has thresholds at both ends (on the low wage end, if your kids need to eat you might be willing to work an awful lot of minimum wage hours per week; on the other end, so long as we're making above some personal threshold of "enough", most of us aren't interested in working insane hours to make more - but that threshold does vary a lot by person), but there is a correlation there between salary and hours the average working is willing to work per week at that salary.

(And it varies by regional cost of living. People tell me that $100,000 doesn't go near as far in the Bay Area as it does most everywhere else.)
posted by eviemath at 4:58 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


just speculating here, but if someone with a liberal arts degree and no work experience wanted to get started, as a early 20s adult, coding for the first time and expect "on the job training" then what we are really talking about is an Apprenticeship. I could see that working in theory. But they would need to understand that they are going to be paid as and have the social standing of an apprentice for a number of years while getting their job training.

Doing some quick googling around, an apprentice carpenter (and yes, a master carpenter makes wages comparable with a decent coding job) is looking at ~$11 / hour if they can get it; most of the apprentice jobs I am seeing advertised still require 1-2 years experience.

What is crazy is the idea that someone with a general college degree should both expect on the job training and salary and benefits commiserate with a journeyman or masters level.
posted by Riemann at 4:59 PM on December 12, 2013


Good, programmers love free markets.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 5:06 PM on December 12, 2013


I wonder how many of these people yelling about visas are the same idiots who, several years ago, were bragging abut how there was no need for unions in a technical field and their jobs would be safe forever and could never be outsourced...
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 5:07 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Riemann, a person who is entering a carpentry apprenticeship does not have student loans and has not gone through four years or more of unpaid time during school to get there. Accountants are largely trained on the job and it's pretty rare to see an undergrad accounting program that even introduces you to any of the software outside Excel that's commonly used in the profession. Lawyers can practice solo straight out of school but when I was doing my brief stint in law school the overwhelming quantity of advice was "dear god don't do this". Teachers have to have done student teaching beforehand, but this is built into their programs. Pretty much every degree program that relies on practical skills in order to turn it into productive work expects that new grads will have significant outside-the-classroom training by experienced practitioners, except CS expects people to basically have done their own training in their own time before getting hired.

Not that I'd see anything wrong with lowering starting salaries if the difference was going into training, but not generally to the same wages one pays someone with no education, no. That education is important, it's just not enough.
posted by Sequence at 5:09 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sequence - all of the examples you gave are for people who received extensive vocational training in college for the specific field they are going into. IE: they are equivalent to someone looking for their first coding job with a CS degree. And there are a lot of programs recruiting those types. Though, since they lack better differentiators like work experience, those are usually based on bullshit metrics like the prestige of the school involved (eg: Google hiring so much out of Princeton).

I am talking about a person with a general liberal arts college education but not specific vocational training. They may be educated but are starting from scratch at the job.
posted by Riemann at 5:15 PM on December 12, 2013


What is crazy is the idea that someone with a general college degree should both expect on the job training and salary and benefits commiserate with a journeyman or masters level.

I taught myself to program. My first office job started me at $65k and raised me to $87k before I quit two years later. If you can do the work, you're entitled to the benefits. End of story.

The hate for people (not from you specifically, Reimann -- overall) with arts degrees among IT types has always been baffling to me, especially in light of the fact that so many of us have no degree at all. The people I know who've succeeded in the arts (my common-law wife is one) are as smart or smarter and work harder than the best programmers. We should feel blessed that they're not migrating into IT en masse.

I think probably the biggest difference between programming and other trades is the required grounding in the fundamentals of computer science. But programming isn't fully a profession like architecture or medicine, because, in most cases, we have so little individual responsibility for the safety of our product. Hopefully self-taught hacks aren't building the avionics on passenger planes without some hard-core vetting, though.
posted by klanawa at 5:22 PM on December 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Pay for a programmer in India versus USA is 1/4. (From memory, so you might fact check that.)

I discussed immigration with someone. As someone who has studied economics, he said imagine if the locations were smaller. House arrest is not good for the economy. So I said, what if these are two neighboring states, let's call them Oklahoma and Kansas. And one of them has wages that are 1/4 as much. Which leads to the person in the arguments. I said the bottom line for him is that he makes more money and I make less. But in long term he is probably right.
posted by saber_taylor at 5:25 PM on December 12, 2013


I suppose research makes even appearing to contribute anything harder for anyone who won't grow to understand it. It's interesting that "a hopeless hire looks exactly like a good hire who is still learning" in software though, Riemann. I bet that's fixable.

You've never worked with that one guy who soaks up all your time?

It's different in mathematics because "the guy who soaks up all your time" actually makes you sort out the details more clearly. I've spent over a month convincing a coauthor that a proof worked by successively adding greater and greater detail only to have him accept the original jargon loaded argument once the translation from jargon to manipulations of first order formulas became clear. All that time resulted in a clearer exposition that didn't sacrifice too much of the page efficiency the jargon bought and the journal would prefer.

"Whenever there is a difference of opinion between [the writers of code and the reader of code], the readers are always right and the writers are always wrong." - 10min into Yaron Minsky's Effective ML lecture
posted by jeffburdges at 5:27 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I taught myself to program, too, and I'll say this: there is definitely stratification in the market. The really good programmers (I am not one; I am at best borderline good) are actively competed for, and there are more positions than there are really good programmers. Even me, I get recruiters calling me day and night, and a VP at a previous company just emailed me last week, begging me to come back.

You can hire someone to fill your position, but programming is almost unique, I think, in the purity of the mapping from the mind of the worker to the product. A person with less ability to think abstractly, to conceptualize and design program structures, is going to be a drag on the team. There are developers who are actively harmful, such that having them on the team can drag the whole project into a pit of horror.

I am not afraid of my job going overseas, or being filled by an H1-B. Maybe that makes me an idiot. I just look back on the 40 interviews we've had in the last few months to hire two developers, and think that "skills shortage" might mean something different in this field than elsewhere.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:32 PM on December 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


sonic meat machine - I don't know about larger trends or what the real data behind all this is but my anecdotal experience has been very much like yours.
posted by Riemann at 5:37 PM on December 12, 2013


Sorry, I'm not sure where this idea comes from but the text of the 1990 Act which first created the H-1B visa is clearly not just for foreign language instructors or foreign culture experts. Those specific kinds of roles are not mentioned at all. The legislation's text is explicitly broader:

You can look through the US Code cited elsewhere in this post, it is rather convoluted and I'm haveing trouble doing OCR to recover the scans into plain text n any useful matter.

Suffice to say this aliens and nationality sections are full of "registries of personnel with foreign language skills" and pay rates they might be offered in civilian or military employment, and that the US government recognized the strategic importance of having qualified foreign language speakers available to analysts and diplomats. AFAIK a lot of this concept of "strategic stockpiling of linguistic skills and native langauge speakers" started around the Defense Language Institute. The military recognzed the importance of immigrant langauge instructors. It didn't really need to be explicityly stated, until the program got hijacked to bring unskilled techs over with skills they would learn on the job here, rather tha bring with themm which made it harder to bring langauge instructors over to the US.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:42 PM on December 12, 2013


The amount of people with solid looking resumes who can't do CS 101 level stuff (basic loops, simple data structures --- not complicated "Google/MS" level questions, I'm talking about people who fail out wayyyy before that stuff) is huge.

I keep hearing that this is the bar for software development hiring - that there's this glut of people who can't do the very basic basics, and that the jobs are there for the taking if you're even half capable because it's expected that a new hire will take X number of months to train. And yet, every programming or general IT-related job I've ever interviewed for (successfully or otherwise), or heard tales of interviews for, comes down to "gotcha" questions about little-used minutiae of programming languages or other aspects of the job that are frankly only impressive in an academic or trivia sort of way to get right, that everyone, even seasoned pros, in practice just spends two seconds to google for a refresher when they need it. The interview process is picky in ways that are kind of unrealistic to the day-to-day job and it seems like everybody's trying to do an end-run around the "expected" training period when they hire. I mean, I get it, the incentive is clearly to go for the person who will need less training, I totally get that. But a lot of potential gets shut out in the process, so you end up with an overabundance of real potential talent out there but nobody willing to cultivate it, which I think is a huge part of the shortage of workers. Not an easy problem to solve, though, because at some point you are asking companies to gamble their money on unproven talent, but still.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:54 PM on December 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


What I find very ironic is that our government - both Houses and POTUS - have managed over the last 30 years to decrease the quality of American education by using education as a political football. Now, we hear them - with the support of their contributory overlords - claiming that increasing the H1-B quotas will somehow help America because we have a shortage (which we don't) of competent STEM workers. I have personally spoken to staffers for many of the people in the Congressional "Gang of Eight" that was assigned to take on the Immigration Act. They shut down the minute I brought up studies that contradict what the likes of Zuckerberg's PAC is pushing on the Hill re: H1-Bs. They don't want to hear it.

Also, one of the things that's happening in Silicon Valley is as follows: There was a glut of H1-B's that came in just before the last tech boom. Many of those people were displaced when the boom went bust and they turned to networked recruiting. As a result, I would venture to say that most of the recruiters one encounters - especially contract recruiters - are ex-H1-B's. Take a look at the RFP's for positions like Software Quality Assurance in the Bay Area (SQA); they're laughable. The requirements are all ginned up to eliminate ANYONE with a traditional SQA skill set, and favor those who *claim* to have same on the resumes that have been carefully prepared by their H1-B recruiting firm; some corrupt college in India; or a "friendly" person inside the company that's doing the hiring. This happens all the time. I have seen this in development circles as well, all the way up to high level programming/architecture.

This is a very uncomfortable truth, but it's alive and well in the tech sector. I have seen this first hand and among MANY associates. There is a culture of "hire as cheaply as you can, and as young as you can" that permeates Silicon Valley - superb, brilliant coders who are paid big buck are not the rule; they are the exception.

Mark Zuckerberg is a liar (he's proven that more than once) He, along with Bill Gates, Rric Schmidt, John Chambers (Cisco) are using BS and PAC money to have their way. They, along with Zuckerberg's PAC, including double-dealing immigration law firms who stand to make big money if the new quotas get passed, are lying through their teeth.

This latest, proposed H1-B legislation would permit the spouses of the newly increased mass of H1-B's (about 3x the old quota) to go to work immediately at whatever job they can find, where before they were not permitted to do that. Can you imagine what that glut of workers will do to an some fragile domestic economies? Even if those spouses are taking part-time or low wage jobs (many won't) they will be replacing Americans who are already job-poor.

This all started with Reagan ripping up unions, helped by Clinton with his NAFTA scam, and furthered along by both Bush and Obama. They - and their corporate overlords - are talking out of both sides of their smarmy mouths.

In the meantime, American education gets less effective; more expensive, more difficult to access, etc. etc. The assholes on the Hill wring their hands and do nothing.

A LOT of people are being left behind by this betrayal; they're struggling.

Last, there is NO blame put on the H1-B worker here, or their spouses! Those persons are just trying to better themselves; they don't make the laws that permit them to travel to other nations for work. In a way, they are victims of their own governments, too corrupt to build transparent governance and build infrastructure necessary to sustain sufficient work at home. Who wants to leave one's own nation to find a job? That shouldn't be necessary!

The blame for this mess goes to the corrupt scum in our and other governments - and their corporate overlords - who keep saying "we are a nation of laws", as long as the laws put money and power in their pockets.

A great looming problem, going forward, is that automation is going to take a big bite out of employment 0 including tech employment (there will be gains, but net losses will no doubt be the order of the day). World populations are increasing. H1-B's are just an intermediate stop gap to saving even MORE money with automation, and damn the worker.
posted by Vibrissae at 6:01 PM on December 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


jason_seakums, I think that the interview process is "picky" purely because the cost of failing to weed someone out is so high. I usually ask more "soft" questions, trying to get at thought processes, but I can definitely see the attraction of "puzzles," and I can't understand how anyone can hire without giving code assignments.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:03 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Code assignments are necessary, yeah, and I think your "soft" question style is probably much more effective, because that probably gets at finding what you said earlier, the "type" of thinking necessary for the job - but there is this really prevalent interview style that's all trivia, all surface. It's a problem.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:09 PM on December 12, 2013


All those minutia questions might come from the fact that most developers doing hiring never taught before, jason_steakums. A reasonable C++ interview question might be : How would you imagine the compiler implements public base classes? virtual ones? Say how would you do this with structs in ordinary C? Very "soft" question, but requires translating stuff slightly. It's maybe better than say asking directly about the fact that non-virtual inheritances branch out in C++, although that's partially the mistake you're afraid a developer might make.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:12 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


My favourite questions to ask are data structure and algorithm questions. I'll ask the candidate to design something with certain requirements for efficiency. A surprising number of people never think beyond arrays and linear searches.

But I know what you mean. I'm not going to ask people some API question that they would probably just google on the job.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 6:17 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Riemann, I don't know who these non-CS grads are who don't know any programming and are applying for programming jobs and expecting to make as much money as actual CS grads and get taught absolutely everything on the job, but I can't see this as a major epidemic or anything? Am I wrong about that? I was taking this for comparing CS to other fields, and pointing out that in other fields, if you're expected to have vocational knowledge, you are NOT guaranteed to have gained it in the classroom, and the treatment of anybody near the entry level takes this into account, and yet they still get paid a living wage for a college graduate even though they need tons of training and heavy supervision for at least the first year and often longer.
posted by Sequence at 6:17 PM on December 12, 2013


All those minutia questions might come from the fact that most developers doing hiring never taught before, jason_steakums. A reasonable C++ interview question might be : How would you imagine the compiler implements public base classes? virtual ones? Say how would you do this with structs in ordinary C? Very "soft" question, but requires translating stuff slightly. It's maybe better than say asking directly about the fact that non-virtual inheritances branch out in C++, although that's partially the mistake you're afraid a developer might make.

Yeah, that makes sense, the lack of teaching skills. It's kind of the difference between pedagogy and having an untrained substitute administer a standardized test. In a programming interview, the latter technique ends up letting a lot of wheat get thrown out with the chaff.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:19 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sequence, there are a lot of "programmers" who know little, if anything, about programming. They come with resumes that go back for years, too, in some cases. My absolute favorite was the guy hired over my recommendation, at a previous job, who ended up writing utter nonsense. Thousands of lines of syntactically correct but literally nonsensical code. There are even people who go to two day "workshops" and then start applying to jobs. Luckily management usually sorts these out before they take any of my time, but it's not rare. The worst are the ones who seem to know something, but then they get on the job and they are just a source of entropy. You could point a random number generator at them.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:24 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always thought the interview-puzzle thing was a side-effect of the passion for puzzles that pervades CS culture. It's almost more of a social marker than a test for competence. I suck at puzzles. Hate them. I'm not a gamer. Don't do crosswords or Sudoku. By programmer standards, I'm a weirdo. But I'm a pretty good programmer. Not great, better than most. I dread the puzzle-interview. Haven't had one yet.
posted by klanawa at 6:28 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


H1-B's cost an arm and leg, often have terrible language issues, and will frequently bolt back home with learned skills. You think software folks are hiring these people because they want to?

There metafilter goes again blaming Canada....
posted by srboisvert at 6:39 PM on December 12, 2013


I'm not in IT, but I have some experience recruiting H1-B statisticians. The idea that anyone wants to hire an H1-B is absurd. It gets done because it has to. The people I've helped hire typically take much longer to become productive, they're much more difficult to work with (not their fault - language and cultural barriers, mostly), and they tend not to stay as long, particularly if they're from China (Indian nationals tend to stay permanently, at least in my area). They're good people, but my company would've hired a native-born or naturalized American any day.

I seriously wonder if anyone here spouting the wage-lowering conspiracy argument has ever managed a business. H1-B's aren't stupid and they know what the market rate is for their services, and what's more, I don't know a single manager who would trade a 10 or 20% lower salary for what often ends up being a twice-as-long ramp to productivity and a much less certain return on investment in the employee. (for outsourced units, this is not the case, though.)
posted by downing street memo at 6:57 PM on December 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


See, what I've been trying to point out, sonic meat machine, is that my current field gets all kinds of people who can't really do the work on day 1. But we actually pay attention to what they're doing and when they make mistakes, they get sent back to fix it, and eventually they get better. If they make zero progress towards getting better, they get laid off very quickly. How on earth does anybody get to the point where they've written thousands of lines of code that don't do anything before someone stops them and makes them go back and fix it until either it runs or they've gotten fired for incompetence? Shouldn't the nonsense have at least been caught by the second or third day at work?
posted by Sequence at 6:59 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


That company was pathological. It was a situation where there was a mandate to hire a lot of programmers in a short amount of time, and the net result was utter failure at every level. The "programmer" in question didn't have anyone looking at his code until someone looked by happenstance (wondering why there wasn't more progress on that team) and brought it to my attention. It was basically a situation where nobody in the management structure had ever read The Mythical Man-Month, Peopleware, or anything analogous.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:02 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I've heard stories like smm's before --- people looking at someone's work after months and finding basically no or negative progress (not likely at companies that know what they are doing, more common in second-tier tech companies or IT departments of non-tech companies -- most of the examples I knwo are from banks). And yeah its always a dysfunctional process/management. (This is why companies like Google have mandatory code reviews)
posted by wildcrdj at 7:12 PM on December 12, 2013


downing street memo, h1-b (and other visas) workers are not free agents because of the visa.
posted by saber_taylor at 7:12 PM on December 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Personally I'd rather we offered more permanent visas to such workers, I knew a lot of H1B workers who really really wanted to stay and were quite talented, and was sad that we were not welcoming them. In fact the majority of H1B's I've personally worked with wanted to stay in America permanently, but most could not.

It seems to me if we're going to let someone work here, it's better for everyone if they can stay -- why let that talent go back to another country, why not get the tax/productivity/etc benefit for longer, and so on. H1B feels like a bad compromise in general, it's better than nothing but there should be a program with a better path to residency in its place IMO.
posted by wildcrdj at 7:25 PM on December 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


12 Jobs Getting the Biggest Raises in 2014
posted by Artw at 7:38 PM on December 12, 2013


Artw, that page needed a plugin. 5.x% raise forecasted? So 4.x% with inflation accounted for?

"On average, applications for H-1B workers in computer occupations were for wages $13,000 less than Americans in the same occupation and state." - some random webpage. Now to combine those two numbers would take a smarter person than I.
posted by saber_taylor at 7:57 PM on December 12, 2013


Christ, the xenophobia.

It's too bad you don't all have a convenient label for H1-B holders like "spic" or "wetback".

The US allows thousands of completely unskilled, uneducated people in with green cards every year under the family program but people who qualify for high-paying jobs with master's degrees are the ones bringing down the US economy?

This latest, proposed H1-B legislation would permit the spouses of the newly increased mass of H1-B's (about 3x the old quota) to go to work immediately at whatever job they can find, where before they were not permitted to do that.

Just like people who get green cards under the family category or spouses of L1 visa holders.

How times have changed when "sclortic" Europe has a free labour market and the paragon of free markets, the US, wants to lock down the free movement of labour.

If US work visa gets locked down harder all that it will mean is bigger development offices for US companies in Dublin, London or Hyderbad.

Honestly, the US already has one of the hard immigration systems in the developed world. I don't understand why people want to make it harder. It's not going to actually make the US employment situation any better nationally to keep out a few thousand highly educated people a year.
posted by GuyZero at 7:57 PM on December 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


I know at least three H-1 recipients who don't have master degrees. Not sure what they have that counts as a masters though.
posted by dabitch at 8:05 PM on December 12, 2013


Riemann: I am talking about a person with a general liberal arts college education but not specific vocational training. They may be educated but are starting from scratch at the job.

*raises hand*

I did this: English degree, and I got a job before graduation working at a company's shipping desk, and upon graduation I was offered a job doing IT-related stuff. It was a service bureau, OK, but over the next six years I was a web master [in 1995!] and worked in the in-house tech support office. Next job was two years as a desktop support guy for Macs & Suns, and then I was a full-fledged Unix sysadmin.

What did I know about computers when I started that first job? Pretty much jack. But I was eager and bright and willing, and I got a career out of it. *shrug* Now I run a group of six DBAs & Unix sysadmins and I want to get another DBA.

Did I expect that kind of opportunity? No, but when it came along I jumped on it with both feet.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:32 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


downing street memo, h1-b (and other visas) workers are not free agents because of the visa.

When they get here, they have less labor mobility than a citizen or green card holder yes, but before they arrive they are free to work for whatever company will take them. And, believe me, there are many such companies and they're quite aware of their choices.

My favorite story: my firm shares a building with another, similar firm, with whom we are often in competition for talent. (Our operations in H1-B talent source countries overlap a good bit as well). The elevator situation is a bit rough because employees of firm B don't have fixed desks. I've had people in Bangalore ask me if we've fixed the elevators yet. No lie.
posted by downing street memo at 8:33 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not going to actually make the US employment situation any better nationally to keep out a few thousand highly educated people a year.

A few thousand? Consider also that the new proposals permit immediate job qualification status for H1-B spouses who want to work. There is no xenophobia; there is only concern about the lies told by corporate manipulators and the politicians they are paying off. Read the links. There is no shortage of qualified Americans in the STEM disciplines. Here's a test, suggested by Cringely in one of the links: remove the "tied-in" status that H1-Bs are bound by - i.e. they are ound to the company that brings them in for six years; they have to work for less; they are not mobile...in other words, they're indentured. Cringely (read the link, up thread) argues that if that requirement went away, jerks like the lying Mark Zuckerberg and his "FWD.us" PAC wouldn't be able to leverage lower wages and other kinds of control for 6 years. Thus, any H1-B would be free to leave her sponsoring company and go to work for wages that the market will bear. How many of these corporations that are angling for more H1-Bs will be pushing for increases, then? Not many.

Another thing: FWD.us completely ignored the Immigration Act proponents from the Latino community at first; they not only ignored them, they rejected the latter's overtures. Zuckerberg and his PAC pals know what they want. What happened was that Zuckerberg started to get bad press and got PR-one-upped by the original Latino proponents of the Immigration Act, and decided to fall in with them. What's disappointing about that is that the Latino contingent - who REALLY need a break (so many have worked here for years, for literal beans, plus having to put up with REAL xenophobia) - welcomed Zuckerberg with pragmatic open arms. I'm pulling for Immigration reform for the Dream Act and Latino contingent, but the H1-B component is a scam.

Again, a few thousand, you say? And, remember, the spouses of those H1-Bs would be permitted to go to work right away, in any capacity they qualify for. If you don't see "deception" and "scam" written all over this new bill, I have a bridge to sell you. How many of those spouses will have tech sector skills? More then I'll bet you're willing to wager.

Meanwhile, while immigration reform advocates in the tech industry will be pleased that the quota for high-skilled immigrants is set to increase – from 65,000 to 110,000, according to the memo – that is likely a good deal shy of the increase they were hoping for. Silicon Valley leaders had in the past lobbied for cap to be increased to as many as 300,000. The memo, however, says that cap could increase to as high as 180,000 in future years, depending on a “High Skilled Jobs Index” that fluctuates according to demand and capacity for such workers within the country. However, the cap could neither increase nor decrease by more than 10,000 in any one year
posted by Vibrissae at 10:50 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Immigration seems to have worked out well for the US so far. After reading this thread, and having worked in high tech for about sixteen years now I guess, the fear of H1-B visas doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I've been unbelievably lucky and privileged to have worked in a couple of amazing places with amazing people, many, possibly the majority, of whom were H1-B's at one time I'm sure. In the very long term, China and India, and hopefully the whole world, will catch up to the West, and it is probably an economic certainty that quality of life and pay will balance out globally over time.

Maybe if we had a better social safety net, Americans would be less paranoid and realize that we want to have all of the most talented and hardest working people here that we can get to remain as competitive as possible. I recently heard an NPR piece about Polish immigrants in London who were complaining about how they are working their asses off as domestic workers and laborers while a lot of native Londoners were unemployed and living off the dole. They may have a bit of a point, as would a lot of "illegal immigrants" in this country I'm sure.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:03 PM on December 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Fuck me, it's all gone Tea Party in here.
posted by Artw at 11:59 PM on December 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


There is no xenophobia

OK, so you're not a xenophobe. But is there a meaningful difference here? Intentions don't really matter in the end. What matters is the result. Xenophobia is a bad thing when it is put into action because of the results it produces. If you advocate policies that produce the same result, does it matter that you have good intentions?

What's disappointing about that is that the Latino contingent - who REALLY need a break (so many have worked here for years, for literal beans, plus having to put up with REAL xenophobia) - welcomed Zuckerberg with pragmatic open arms.

Hmmm...

Again, a few thousand, you say? And, remember, the spouses of those H1-Bs would be permitted to go to work right away, in any capacity they qualify for. If you don't see "deception" and "scam" written all over this new bill, I have a bridge to sell you. How many of those spouses will have tech sector skills? More then I'll bet you're willing to wager.

Hmmm...
posted by 2N2222 at 12:04 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Comment deleted. Vibrissae, this is not your soapbox, this is not your space to vent anger and instigate and perpetuate fights with other members. This is not your site or your thread to control and dominate. You will not threadsit here, or anywhere else on the site. Consider this an official warning.]
posted by taz at 12:49 AM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


As a Canadian autodidactic web hack...I don't know alot about the US H1B program (other than if one doesn't have that formal degree or other designation, fuggedaboudit). Does it offer a fast-lane to immigration, or is it just a temporary work permit?

I don't have a problem with immigration per se. I do have a problem with programs structured to bring in TEMPORARY workers under a visa who will only be in the country for a few years before being sent home - and that's what RBC is/was essentially doing in Canada. They released employees to replace them with lower-cost, easy-to-dismiss contract temps.

Alot of companies favour contracted IT help over employees - easy to hire, easy to fire, and somebody else paid to train them and give them experience - as opposed to an employee that wants those pesky things like benefits and training and a career.

Anyway, it hasn't been all bad news for me. Many of my good friends in the biz are recent immigrants... and some of my work has been cleaning up after an offshored project went pear-shaped. Contract life is sometimes hit-and-miss, but at my advanced age I'm really enjoying the free time.
posted by Artful Codger at 4:31 AM on December 13, 2013


I've been in the software business for nearly 40 years, and have been a hiring manager for at least half a dozen companies. I have never seen a situation where H1-Bs were specifically recruited, or when hired, paid less than anyone else; as others have said, from the hiring company's perspective the H1-B process is extra work & extra cost. I have, on the other hand, worked for companies that avoided H1-Bs for that very reason.
posted by mr vino at 4:54 AM on December 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is the masters degree requirement a new thing or is it just that IT jobs at Facebook etc require a masters? I had a couple stints on H1B 2000-2005 and don't have one. I'm not in tech though. (And I wasn't underpaid either, I had a nice NYC salary btw).

I have a few friends in hiring roles or with hiring input at FB and Google at home in Dublin who are on the other side of this .... trying to get Americans (and other folks') visas squared away. Boggles the mind how much time and expense those tech giants must put into moving people around.
posted by jamesonandwater at 5:56 AM on December 13, 2013


As a Canadian autodidactic web hack...I don't know alot about the US H1B program (other than if one doesn't have that formal degree or other designation, fuggedaboudit). Does it offer a fast-lane to immigration, or is it just a temporary work permit?

I don't know a lot about it either, but I do know it is a 'dual intent' visa, meaning you can have an H1-B and apply for permanent residency, in contrast to, say, a TN visa (which maybe you've heard of because it's open to Canadians). Frankly, even if I didn't intend to immigrate, I'd feel more secure with a visa that wasn't subject to the US government kicking me out because they thought I might have had a passing thought about living in the US permanently. I really have no idea what the other options are, but certainly that would make an H1-B more appealing to me on a personal level than a strictly temporary option.
posted by hoyland at 6:12 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


A few thousand? Consider also that the new proposals permit immediate job qualification status for H1-B spouses who want to work.

Just for some context. I'm one of those spouses. Immigrating to the U.S. for the sake of my wife's job means I have had to suspend my career. For two years so far. Now I am not even one to take someone else's job. Before we immigrated I had my own business. Now I have to actually be careful to not accidentally earn money lest I jeopardize my married life by hurting my eventual visa chances. I would love to restart my business. I still have opportunities both within and outside the U.S. I would love to pay income taxes. I'd help with the trade imbalance. I'd be a contributing member of this society.

Instead I am an alimentary canal. Eating and excreting and wondering how Americans can maintain that they believe in marriage or families when they punish them so severely.

People who immigrate to America make huge sacrifices to get here. Huge sacrifices. They leave behind friends, family, culture and pay lots of money in moving expenses and immigration fees. They give up almost everything. We are people who actively want to be here and work hard to get here and then we endure open insults and contempt from natural born Americans who casually discuss what rights they feel we should have even once we have jumped through all the hoops and cleared all the hurdles.

I get that you are scared but immigrant spouses are not the ones you should fear.

I have skills. I can contribute. It's just foolish to not let me.

As one human being to another please reconsider your opposition to letting me work.
posted by srboisvert at 6:46 AM on December 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


Sequence, there are a lot of "programmers" who know little, if anything, about programming. They come with resumes that go back for years, too, in some cases. My absolute favorite was the guy hired over my recommendation, at a previous job, who ended up writing utter nonsense. Thousands of lines of syntactically correct but literally nonsensical code. There are even people who go to two day "workshops" and then start applying to jobs. Luckily management usually sorts these out before they take any of my time, but it's not rare. The worst are the ones who seem to know something, but then they get on the job and they are just a source of entropy. You could point a random number generator at them.

On the flip-side of this, I've worked with one or two developers who were top-notch from a CS perspective--people who could have easily passed any technical interview test based on algorithmic analysis or data structures or whatever pure CS knowledge you'd care to test--who were hopelessly incompetent when it came to working on complex business systems with a variety of integrated technologies and subsystems, analyzing requirements and managing their work to a contract. Just having really solid, deep technical understanding doesn't necessarily substitute for experience or translate into practical competence in many sectors of IT work. I've literally known developers who quit because they thought they were going to get to build things like compilers and DBMS from scratch who couldn't seem to handle the more prosaic realities of most business programming--which is almost always more about integration and customer service than about pure CS or even raw technical proficiency.

That said, I've worked with a few H1-B developers, and they're just people and developers, same as the rest of us. If we're concerned about the potential for employers to exploit H1-B workers, then let's talk about the problems with the program and talk about how to fix them rather than letting these issues be cast in such a way as to pit working people against each other.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:47 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I'm not a xenophobe, I'm just "concerned" foreign workers can't think for themselves and that they're being misled and manipulated by the evil corporations."

I mean, really?
posted by downing street memo at 7:41 AM on December 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


Certainly, there are corporations taking advantage of H1-B workers, but it's in the same way they're taking advantage of US citizen workers - underpaying and overworking. Which is a fine thing to be upset about, because it is a problem, but it's not a reason to cap or get rid of H1-Bs, it's really a separate conversation entirely.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:45 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Someone upthread snarked about unions, as tech figured it didn't need one years ago, but aren't there other ways to protect works from being underpaid, overworked and phased out as soon as they're suddenly older?
posted by dabitch at 7:52 AM on December 13, 2013


Nope. Not really. Not so long as our legislatures continue to have such striking pro-management/capital/anti-labor biases...
posted by saulgoodman at 8:53 AM on December 13, 2013


A few thousand? Consider also that the new proposals permit immediate job qualification status for H1-B spouses who want to work.

Why shouldn't spouses be allowed to work. Are you suggesting that a woman's place is in the home?
posted by humanfont at 9:01 AM on December 13, 2013


The only H-1 spouse in this thread is a man.

Tech workers aren't all married to tech workers, obviously, and the spouses would be permitted for any job, anywhere. Teacher, retail, nurse, marketing, management, accounting - well, anything one doesn't need specific state knowledge for like realtor or lawyer I suppose.
posted by dabitch at 9:10 AM on December 13, 2013


First, I misspoke when I said that H1-B holders need master's degrees. I think it's just a 4-year degree requirement, more or less. I got it confused in my head with green card categories where the difference between being in EB2 vs EB3 is sometimes as simple as having a master's.

But one other thing to note is that the spouses of H1-B holders tend to be well educated like H1-B holders themselves. And the unemployment rate for university degree holders is 4.5% or less (see the US BLS). That's pretty much full employment. Letting in degree holders (and their degree-holding spouses) is hardly flooding a struggling market. If you actually care about unemployment in the US you need to improve the situation for the millions of people with less than a high school education. Either fund education or, from a purely immigration standpoint, stop admitting immigrants with less than a high-school education.

But maybe that sounds xenophobic.

Oh wait - because it is.

At any rate, the US labour pool is not going to be substantially upset by letting in highly-educated foreign professionals. Shit, the US didn't even have to educate these people. They just arrived in the US, fully-formed and highly productive. It's like being given free money in terms of GDP growth.

The US domestic birth rate is dropping though so in a few years this will all be pretty academic as the US will have to loosen up immigration policy or begin to see serious declines in the working population. It's inevitable that US immigration policy will eventually become more like Canada or Australia, actively seeking education foreigners to immigrate.
posted by GuyZero at 9:55 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


but aren't there other ways to protect works from being underpaid, overworked and phased out as soon as they're suddenly older?

Yeah, having strong economy where workers have multiple options for employment.
posted by GuyZero at 9:58 AM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's like being given free money in terms of GDP growth.

Yes. Yes it is. TBH that's an aspect that deserves more attention than conspiracy theories regarding Mark Zuckerbergs oppression of Facebook workers.
posted by Artw at 10:10 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tech workers aren't all married to tech workers, obviously, and the spouses would be permitted for any job, anywhere. Teacher, retail, nurse, marketing, management, accounting

My H4-holding spouse who finally has her green card is indeed becoming a teacher. Special education. And honestly, there seems to be a shortage of special ed teachers around here. I expect she'll get a job as soon as she's finished school. So I don't see why H1-B spouses going into these particular jobs is such a bad thing. Around here there's a demand for all the professions you name.

H1-B holders are already geographically located in places with low unemployment. That's why they're here in the first place, to fill jobs that US employers can't find workers for! Neither H1-B holders or their spouses are in regions with high unemployment in the first place.

Anyway, I've broken my rule about posting while at work. I may have to self-deport now.
posted by GuyZero at 10:39 AM on December 13, 2013


That's why I named them, because this isn't all about tech in the end. The spouses would be freer to move around between jobs/companies than the H-1 holder, if that doesn't change though.
posted by dabitch at 10:46 AM on December 13, 2013


Oh, perhaps I got your meaning backwards. My bad.
posted by GuyZero at 10:47 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


jamesonandwater: "Is the masters degree requirement a new thing or is it just that IT jobs at Facebook etc require a masters?"

Pretty sure this is so that they can rule out anyone who got a CS degree in the '90s, because nobody got a master's then.
posted by Sphinx at 10:53 AM on December 13, 2013


As a Canadian autodidactic web hack...I don't know alot about the US H1B program (other than if one doesn't have that formal degree or other designation, fuggedaboudit). Does it offer a fast-lane to immigration, or is it just a temporary work permit?

It is a "temporary" work visa for 3 years and can be renewed for a second three years. Holders can re-apply for another one at the end of the six-year period, but as there are quotas there's always the possibility you may not get one.

It is one of a few US work visas that allows "dual intent" - you can work in the US while applying for permanent residency, aka a US green card. L1 (intra-company management transfer from overseas) is the only other one AFAIK. The green card process otherwise requires the applicant to wait outside the US until the green card is granted.

So it's a fairly long-term "temporary" work visa and it is one of the few visas that offers a path to US citizenship although I would not call it a "fast track" by any stretch. It takes at least a year, possibly more, to get a green card as well as a bunch of money and lawyer time given a H1-B.

This diagram/article explains it pretty well.
posted by GuyZero at 11:06 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, what Guyzero said, and from a cursory glance at the wikipedia page the whole "you need a degree" isn't the case either, so now I understand better how some of my friends have h-1's (one is a journalist - I suspect he may have a visa from the parent company in the UK as he's working at the same company in the US). If I'm understanding this right, there's some extra h-1's available above "the cap" for people with masters degrees: "Laws exempt up to 20,000 foreign nationals holding a master’s or higher degree from U.S. universities from the cap on H-1B visas. In addition, excluded from the ceiling are all H-1B non-immigrants who work at (but not necessarily for) universities, non-profit research facilities associated with universities or government research facilities"
posted by dabitch at 11:16 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh and there are caps on the number of green cards by country of origin where no one country can get more than 7% of green cards per year leading to much longer lines for green card applicants from large sources of emmigrants, specifically India, China, Mexico and the Philippines. It's debatable whether this per-country cap is more fair or de facto discriminatory, but either way it ends up being faster to get a green card if you're from a smaller country with fewer applicants than a bigger one.

So when I say "possibly more", someone from India might well wait for 10 years for a green card. Once you've accepted into the queue you have a different status and can continue to work in the US after your H1 expires, but it's complex and I don't understand all the nuances.

But green cards are somewhat tangential to H1-B visas.
posted by GuyZero at 11:37 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


> the whole "you need a degree" isn't the case either


This fall I was flirting with a US headhunter (cos I don't really have any intent to move) who was pretty insistent he could place me in the US. That is, til he clicked that I don't have a degree in CS or similar (not that a 30 year old degree would have mattered, anyway).

So I question that, at least in IT.
posted by Artful Codger at 12:06 PM on December 13, 2013


Sorry, I should have been more specific. It doesn't specify that you need a masters degree. Those who do have a bigger chance/quota if I'm understanding the quoted text correctly. It doesn't say what the government workers need.
posted by dabitch at 12:13 PM on December 13, 2013


I had some friends who were looking at relocating to the US from Canada (but within a company, not getting a new job). IIRC, all of the visa choices (H, TN, L) required either a related degree (CS, engineering, etc), or a certain amount of experience (maybe 5 years?). The L required the applicant to be a manager, or somebody "critical" to the operation of the company.

A headhunter placing you in a new job might find it easier to just require the degree.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:14 PM on December 13, 2013


Also, let me finaly-finally say that now that I'm actually looking at all the links in the OP I find it interesting how

"How H1-B visa abuse is hurting American tech workers" (for example)

gets parsed into

"How H1-B visas are hurting American tech workers"

instead of

"How abuse is hurting American tech workers"

Honestly.
posted by GuyZero at 2:46 PM on December 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


The H4 curse Discusses the impact of prohibiting spouses of h1-b workers from seeking employment. It is really a horrible situation we put these people in.
posted by humanfont at 3:35 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


If this is correct (apart from the typo) it sounds rather nuts. 'H4 babies' are residing legally for X years (21 in this example), and then have to go back and wait?

H4 visa dependent kids who are brought as babies legally to the US are forced to go back to their origin countries after attaining 21 years of age because due to the long wait Green Card wait. At the same time passing of the DACA rule has given work permits to the eligible kids of illegal workers in the US.
posted by dabitch at 5:08 PM on December 13, 2013


Zuckerberg's FWD.us has been sleeping in bed with the worst of the worst. I don't know whether his motivations are the need for more talented people, or the desire to have talent for less money. Maybe both.

But his actions demonstrate an ends-justify-the-means morality.

The H1-B controversy might well disappear if CEO pay were constrained to a multiple of base-worker pay.
posted by cytherea at 4:58 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tried to find more on fwd.us and ran into this facebook page, where people are mad it sided with big oil.

I still don't understand how that example in the h4 curse works, a child that has resided lawfully as a H-visa dependant for 21 years in the US can't just be handed a greencard, instead must "Go home" and wait? If this is true (and I hope/doubt it because whoa), it seems that the reform needed is in shortening the time it takes to process green cards for people already clearly eligible. I mean there are people patiently waiting for green cards in their old home countries right now....
posted by dabitch at 11:04 AM on December 27, 2013


« Older Can the shape of your glass enhance the taste of t...  |  In March 2007, retired FBI age... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments