by Meridith Levinson

IT Jobs: The Other Side of the Foreign Worker Debate

Sep 27, 2010

Employers looking to fill IT jobs may not be as eager to hire foreign workers as American IT professionals think.

In IT Jobs: Foreign Workers Need Not Apply, I share the story of Daniel Rego, a Brazilian citizen who came to the U.S. in 2008 on a student visa to pursue a master’s degree in information systems, and of his as yet unsuccessful attempts to get an IT job with an American company here in the U.S.

For those of you who haven’t yet read the story, let me give you some background: Rego is authorized to work in the U.S. He holds a temporary work permit from the U.S. government that allows him to work in the States for 12 months from the day work is issued to him. Because he earned a degree in a technical field, he is eligible to apply for a “STEM” extension, provided he gets a job and his employer is enrolled in the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ E-Verify program. The “STEM” extension would allow Rego to stay in the U.S. and work for another 17 months in a job directly related to his field of study.

Despite the fact that Rego is authorized to stay in the U.S. and work for up to 29 months, employers are reluctant to consider him for their IT jobs. He says employers have told him that they’ll only consider job seekers who are U.S. citizens or Green Card holders. 

Rego believes these employers are discriminating against him and other foreign workers who legally have the right to work in the U.S. (if only temporarily) based on an anti-discrimination notice posted on the I-9 employment verification form that employers have to fill out within three days of an employees’ hire. The anti-discrimination notice states that it’s illegal for employers to discriminate in their recruiting and hiring practices against any individual who is authorized to work in the U.S. on the basis of that individual’s national origin or citizenship status. It also states that employers can’t refuse to hire someone because of a future expiration date on the candidate’s work permit or visa. (Whether or not Rego is being discriminated against is the question I take up in IT Jobs: Foreign Workers Need Not Apply.)

Rego is discouraged by the dismissive treatment American employers have shown him. He says the ads for IT jobs that he sees that specify, “U.S. Citizens Only” and “Indian origin candidates won’t work,” remind him of the “No Negroes” and “No Irish” signs of America’s past. 

“We are not illegals,” Rego wrote to in an e-mail. “We are highly skilled foreign workers that came to America through the front door. We have obtained our graduate degrees from the best institutions of the country in areas where the country most needs our talents, such as IT, Biotechnology and the Sciences.”  

Being told, essentially, that ‘foreign workers need not apply’ is one of many obstacles Rego has faced in his American job search. What makes obtaining a job in the U.S. even harder for him and other work-eligible foreign citizens is that they often possess limited credit histories (many employers check job seekers’ credit reports), they lack networking contacts, and employers can’t easily vet the professional experience and educations they earned in their native countries. Rego says he’s spent “almost $100,000 obtaining certifications that would be accepted in America, including an executive certificate from MIT’s Sloan School of Management,” along with PMP, ITIL and Six Sigma certifications.

Rego’s experience searching for an IT job in the U.S. presents the foreign worker’s side of the IT jobs debate. Where some American-born IT professionals believe corporations can’t wait to give jobs to “cheap” foreign labor, Rego’s trials show that many employers are in fact quite reluctant to hire foreign citizens who are eligible to work in the U.S., and that it’s just as hard (if not harder) for foreign workers to land IT jobs in the U.S. as it is for American workers.