The Great H-1B Debate: Where Are All the CIOs?

There's one thing that opponents in the H-1B visa debate actually agree on: the U.S. system for granting these and other non-immigrant visas to foreign workers is broken. Yet getting a (non tech-vendor) CIO to say anything substantive on the subject is harder than trying to coax an errant syllable from a mime outside the Louvre.

More on that last bit later. But first, that (sort of) meeting of the minds...

In a recent BusinessWeek column, "The Visa Shortage: Big Problem, Easy Fix," Vivek Wadhwa describes the scene at a Duke University career fair: "Signs with the words 'U.S. citizens and permanents only' greeted students at employers' booths... Foreign-born engineering graduates told me they were disappointed that employers like General Electric (GE), IBM (IBM), and Carmax (KMX) as well as smaller companies would not even interview them. Recruiters told me they were frustrated that they could not fill critical positions." There are significantly more foreign-born students than Americans completing higher degrees in engineering, according to the BusinessWeek column, but many find it difficult to stay on in the U.S. to work. America's high-tech employers are in trouble, writes Wadhwa. There just aren't enough H-1B visas to go around. (Currently, the annual cap on H-1B visas is 85,000, with 20,000 exemptions set aside for foreign students who receive degrees from U.S. schools.) A former tech CEO who is now a Wertheim Fellow at the Harvard Law School and executive in residence at Duke, Wadhwa says the scene at his school is evidence of a "broken system" that's driving the best-educated foreign workers to Europe, India, and China. But there's a simple fix, he says: "... increase the number of visas that are available for international students who

get job offers from U.S. companies. An even better solution is to offer these students permanent-resident visas rather than H-1Bs. In the new global landscape, we need the world's best talent on our side."

Last month, Dr. Norman Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California, Davis known for his opposition to the increased placement of foreign workers in U.S. IT jobs, weighed in with a 25-page research paper examining the effects of the H-1B visa and employee-sponsored green card systems. (A side note: the report does a good job of clarifying the difference between the two.) His conclusion? You guessed it: the system is "broken." Matloff lays out a plethora of problems from widespread abuse and fraud (which Wadhwa also alluded to in his column) that he says are enabled by loopholes to the "de facto indentured servitude" he says the H-1B visa can enable. Matloff also attempts to debunk what he sees as the talent shortage myth. When there's a talent crunch, Matloff argues, one tends to see a surge in salaries. Yet his data shows that pay for new graduates in computer science and engineering has been dropping since 2001. "The constant cry of the industry lobbyists that the tech industry cannot find qualified workers is clearly false," Matloff writes. He offers his own suggestions for H-1B reform, including moving to a single-level prevailing wage instead of the four-level scale that exists now, defining the prevailing wage based on the qualifications of the worker instead of the job, extending the rules for H-1B dependent companies (e.g. giving hiring priority to U.S. workers and no hiring of H-1Bs within 90 days of a layoff) to any company hiring H-1B workers, and cleaning up the green card certification process.

Now, if put in a

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