Reader's Letters H-1B Visas

You sound off - in our most heartfelt world-weary mailbag ever.

It's a bit humbling when something as complex and subtle as the H-1B Visa debate sparks off a mailbag that takes the argument into ever more complex and subtle territory. But you've done that this week, and your reaction to the reappearance of the American engineer's worst friend Norman Matloff covered seasoned opinion from US veterans to fresh-faced H-1B applicants. We're publishing a representative sample below.

Not everyone gets a mention - many emails covered similar ground, and we've tried to pick the snappiest. For the record, we received only one letter from a die-hard free market libertarian, who may have missed the sarcasm first time round. But for the rest of you, hats ascend.

"Quotas and Xenophobia are not the answer"

"Life is too easy for American developers..."

The best American programmer, are amongst the best in the World. But they are often swamped by being surrounded by over-priced mediocrity and worse.

Europe, Israel and other parts of the world find themselves unable to throw bodies at a problem because of the cost to the employer in taxes. This tends to mean that training and skill competency are more important and they do make teams more productive. I have personally witnessed teams of less than 10 people outside the US, consistently being more productive than teams of 50+ working in the US.

Working in the US, I have worked with teams staffed almost entirely with developers from Eastern Europe who run rings around most of the local work force.

In many ways, life is too easy for those American developers. They can waltz in to a job straight from college, nobody particularly wants to train them and they can make a good living without particularly exerting themselves. It is no wonder that employers are looking outside for resources that are cheaper and more productive.

If America really wants to fill these positions itself, it should look to its corporate structure, its management methods and its education system. It should be more attractive for employers to invest in training their staff. As it stands, employers have no investment in the training of staff, this is one of the roots of the indifference and lack of loyalty shown by employers and employees to each other.

Supply and demand can be simple and very brutal at times. Mr Matloff and others can not be too surprised that when America can not supply natively, that companies look elsewhere. If Mr Matloff wants to rectify this situation, quotas and xenophobia are not the answer. The answer is for corporate America to stump up the funds to sufficiently train its own people to do the job properly in the first place.


An H1-B Applicant writes...

"I hardly think Matloff is representative of Silicon Valley"

I personally, am currently applying for an H1B visa to start work at a large Internet company in Silicon Valley, but my point isn't really about the quota system or the restrictions of an H1B (yes, it *is* a pain in the ass that you are tied to one company).

However, the thing that struck me from your article was that you seemed to associate Matloff as a Silicon Valley free-market libertarian, with the sentence "In fact, that's the trouble with free market libertarians in generalshow them a bit of the free market that they don't like, and at the drop of a hat, they're running to the despised Government complaining that the invisible hand has just given them a nasty whack around the ear."

Actually, I hardly think Matloff is a) representative of Silicon Valley. He doesn't even live here - he is a professor at UC Davis, closer to that wonderful bastion of socialism Sacramento than he is to Silicon Valley, and b) I certainly don't think he is a free market libertarian! He wants the government to impose more restrictions.

The real free market libertarians of Silicon Valley are the CEOs of technology companies like Oracle and Cypress. They are the ones who are hiring H1B visas like crazy and certainly are not complaining about the existence of H1Bs lowering the average wage! They only thing they want from government is to get MORE out of the way by raising the quota (if you're a true libertarian, you believe it should be removed completely when there truly would be unrestricted movement of labour).

So, I disagree with the premise of your article that Silicon Valley free marketeers are hypocritical. Norman Matloff is not from Silicon Valley and he clearly does not believe in free markets!

name and address withheld

It's corporate welfare for Oracle and Intel

"Free enterprise it would be if the workers currently on H1B got green cards"

I guess it would not be entertaining to write things other than the way you do (and of course The Register's primary job is to entertain), but:-

Since when did a Government-enforced visa which basically bonds a person to work for one company for its entire life time become "free enterprise"?

Free enterprise it would be if the workers currently on H1B got "green cards" (unlimited right to work for anybody in the U.S. during its life span) so that the free market could take place (i.e., so those workers could work for whoever paid them the most). Won't happen. You can basically call the entire H1B deal "welfare for Intel and Oracle" (Intel and Oracle being two of the biggest consumers of H1B visas). Their lobbiests have strokes every time someone suggests that the H1B should be retired in favor of "green cards", because if their low-cost indentured workers had "green cards", then (gasp) they'd have to pay market value for their employees!

- Eric Lee Green

Andrew writes Eric has a very cool website, check it out here

A Brit in Burgerland writes...

"programmers/engineers are the blue collar workers of the high tech industry"

With respect to the H1-B visa bit let's get a little different view of things. My guess is the writer of the article doesn't make the wages of a programmer and therefore is suffering a fair degree of jealousy, hence the tone of the article. My view of it is that this country is busy bleating about how the future is all high tech and then they seem to be doing their damndest to make sure only immigrants reap the rewards. Also, when comparing salaries take into consideration the poor, under paid executives who are running these organizations and doing all of the complaining. Quite a pitiful group from what I've seen. Can only usually replace their Benzes once a year rather than the obviously nedded multpile times in the course of the year. When they volunteer for pay cuts I might take some mind of what they have to say. The fact of the matter is the programmers/engineers are the blue collar workers of the high tech industry. They too need to share in the benefits this industry is receiving.

I believe in the 'free market' (a theory at best, never really practiced except in certain societies like the Mafia from my observation), but I also believe that these whiners should be doing everything they can to encourage the education and placement of the citizens here before resorting to importing talent from everywhere else. A cooling of the salary increases (and they tail off pretty quickly once one gets to a given skill level and beyond one's youth) could be more sensibly handled that way. It makes no sense to import large numbers of people from other third world countries (Britain being one of those perhaps?) and leave the people here doing grunt work at McDonalds due to our guv'mint and employers not wanting to pay to train U.S. citizens.

In terms of the quality of the immigrants I have found it to be no better than that of the locals. As a matter of fact it seems to me that in the last few years the quality of those coming from India may well have declined as their bribe driven economy seems to have recognized that a CS degree is a great way to get out of India. And from India I repeatedly hear stories of folks who pay others to take their exams - not exactly an indicator of high quality to me. The universities here tend to like the immigrants as they are more willing to suffer through getting a masters or doctorate at much lower wage levels as teaching assitants, so their testimony is not exactly unbiased. And let us not even get into the idiocy that the universities are not quite businesses. They do everything they can to get cheap labor just like the regular employers. After all they need to save money to pay for all the stuff that goes with that football team!

Finally, the problem of unemployment amongst those past their thirties is less about the time one is willing to put in on a job than it is about very real discrimination. In terms of hours the kiddies may work longer, but based upon what I've seen they produce far more problems than a 'seasoned' engineer. Output should be the measure, not simply hours. On that basis the unemployment levels of those over forty are not reasonable. I've met way too many idiots in this industry who think just because some youth has a BS degree they are the same as someone with 14+ years in the business, the only difference being that the kiddie is somewhat cheaper. In my prior job I was making just 22% more than kids fresh out of GA Tech and I've got very real experience in Oracle, SQL Server, Sybase, C++, Java, n-tier client server development and a raft of other technologies. Explain that one please. Problem is I'm past the age of forty. Finally gave it up and am now a CTO. So I get to suck at the management teat and make a larger number than the damn kids from school. (And I have two degrees one of which is a B.S. degree - so it ain't that I'm bitching based upon not being 'qualified'.)

Rich Mycroft - ex-Briton

The Mongolian cluster-fuck approach doesn't work

"American development teams are vastly over-staffed"...

Interesting article. As someone who has used an H-1B visa in the past I would like to comment on a few things you mentioned there. Hopefully without hurting American pride too much.

Immigration, especially of skilled labour is something that will always rankle with the established population, even if the time period is limited. This is always worse when the local population has invalidated itself from taking up those skilled positions in the first place.

I have worked for lengthy periods of time, twice on the East Coast and have come in to contact with development teams from all over the US. This includes companies such as Microsoft, Sun, IBM, Novell, Intel and many others. In my experience, the American solution to an engineering problem is always to throw more bodies at the problem. Little account is taken of the skills and competence of the bodies. In this manner, I have found that compared to the rest of the World, American development teams are vastly over-staffed and at that with a heavy weighting towards the least incompetent. This brings the average competence and efficiency of the team down dramatically.

- [/I]name withheld[/I]

Protectionism doesn't work

I am a senior software developer. I earn a comfortable salary, but not as much as a Lawyer or an accountant.

Why do you badge us as overpaid and materialistic. Where did that idea suddenly come from. We are no more materialistic than any other group.

And overpaid is a relative and judgmental term. We are undoubtedly paid more than our counterparts in the developing world but doesn't that apply to every job in the Western world. Your own included.

There are hundreds of thousands of talented programmers in India and I am sure there is also a large pool of talented Indian managers who manage them. Couldn't they provide Western companies with cheaper management skills? Of course they could. Surprisingly we don't hear much about that.

I don't believe protectionism works in the long term. A libertarian, free Enterprise, global economy is an attractive proposition. But I don't want to be disadvantaged while my bosses walk away with bonuses. They are exposing me to global competition while their job strangely remains as one that could only be done by Westerners (themselves).

H1-Bs should be processed faster. There is a valid point in the 5 years "indentured servitude" that he mentions which is undeniably attractive to employers.

By the way, are you sporting a grudge towards developers? The negative language (overpaid, materialistic) you paint them in seems to indicate so.

- David O'Connell

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