Having covered the information technology and electronics industries for a long time, I’m very sensitive to the H-1B visa controversy. This is the government program whereby foreign nationals can be hired by U.S. employers under a special visa.
H-1B exists because industry claims there’s a labor shortage in the world of technology. On April 1, the 2008 allotment of H-1B visas will likely be used up in a matter of hours. Bill Gates says more H-1B workers should be allowed to work in the U.S. because industry needs special skills that domestic workers can’t always deliver. Many tech folks believe this program siphons valuable jobs away from U.S. workers, and that companies use H-1B mainly to cut labor costs. H-1B opponents say U.S. companies should focus more on talent and less on skills. The controversy rages on. In the current InformationWeek, Rob Preston takes the most responsible view of H-1B that I’ve read to date.
In Are you a complainer or part of the solution?, Preston holds both sides of the debate to the fire. He suggests that industry needs to be more respectful in how it deals with domestic job applicants, and more active in preparing U.S. workers to fill the jobs now going to foreign workers who have “special talents.” And he says workers need to take more responsibility for their careers by addressing the needs of employers more effectively.
I agree with him. There are some legitimate gripes — but few solutions — coming from either side. Ask The Headhunter has always stood for one big idea: Workers and employers both need to create new value and profit for one another if both are to succeed. To clear the talent shortage/lack of loyalty logjam, we need to start floating and discussing ideas that produce profit — for everyone.
Which comes first, more H-1B visas, or greater investment in U.S. workers? Preston starts with two good suggestions at the end of his column. Read his last three paragraphs. He poses a series of questions that are actually a challenge to upend the way we all work. He’s suggesting a new ethic based on profit. Whether you’re an employer or a worker, what are your answers?