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How the 'Tech Worker Visa' Is Remaking IT In America 436

theodp writes "Back in 2008, the Department of Homeland Security enacted a controversial 'emergency' rule to allow foreign students earning tech-related degrees in the US to work for American employers for 29 months after graduation without a work visa. The program would allow US companies to recruit and retain the 'best' science and tech students educated at the top US universities, explained Microsoft. But two-and-a-half years later, it turns out the top US universities are getting schooled by less-renowned institutions. Computerworld reports the DHS program is dominated by little-known, for-profit Stratford University, whose 727 approved requests for post-graduate Optional Practical Training (OPT) STEM extensions tops all schools and is more than twice the combined total of the entire Ivy League — Brown (26), Columbia (105), Cornell (90), Dartmouth (18), Harvard (27), Princeton (16), Penn (50), and Yale (9). In second place, with 533 approved requests, is the University of Bridgeport. In another twist, the program's employers include IT outsourcing and offshoring 'body shops' like Kelly Services, whose entities snagged about 50 approvals, more than twice the combined total of tech stalwarts Google (15), (2), Yahoo (2), and Facebook (3)."
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How the 'Tech Worker Visa' Is Remaking IT In America

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  • by mixed_signal ( 976261 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @08:21PM (#34301472)

    ... probably aren't high on the recruiting list for IT and technology professionals. MIT, Carnegie-Mellon, U.C. Berkeley, Stanford, ... several state universities, and on down are where the action is for engineering and computer science. So clearly there are more "tech" jobs in the specialties where these schools are hiring, likely those requiring less education. The problem with this data is that it has no basis for comparison to how the visa program is actually changing anything.

    I had tried to recruit some talented MSEE grads for some time back in 2007 and found, frustratingly, that most were here in student visas and the pool of H1-B visas were much smaller. We couldn't count on obtaining an H1-B and had to turn down a few very talented people. And, no, at the time we did not find as many U.S. citizens available.

    A better data point would be to show the percentage of student visa holders that have remained the in U.S. with this program.

    And if anyone wants to complain about these programs taking jobs from U.S. citizens, then it should start by reducing the number of student visas on offer. Once someone is well trained by our schools it's insane to not let them stay and add to our GDP.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 21, 2010 @08:44PM (#34301610)

    How about we eliminate H1-B and L-1 visas and start hiring Americans again?

    How about a middle ground: we eliminate H-1B (H-1B, not H1-B, and that's how I can tell you've never dealt with whatever they renamed the INS to after 9/11) and L-1 visas and start handing out green cards again?

    You wanna come here and sling code for us? Fine. But none of this six-years-of-getting-expertise-at-the-expense-of-our-corporations and then you're out (H1-B) unless you get an extension through one of these degree mills. That was the same problem with the H-1B program in the first place: a quota of ~65K, now ~130K, and they were also all filled by bullshit body shops from India.

    Those abuses happened because getting a green card takes years, and a company (and an employee) has to go through a year-long charade to demonstrate that "this furriner candidate isn't merely the best candidate for the job, we even tried to hire a lesser-qualified American but failed" (they call it a "Labor Certification"), and spend years more waiting for it to be approved, and years more for the green card to be granted, in order to get one.

    The root cause of the problem hasn't been fixed, so the old abuses continue under new names.

    So yeah, how about the compromise option: You come here, you pass the basic tests for H-1B ("Is this person qualified to do the work? Are they being paid the prevailing wage in their local area?"), you get a green card.

    In the time it takes to hire an H-1B and walk them through the green card process, and then the five extra years it requires them to become eligible for citizenship, most companies have sold out and shut down, never mind most positions.

    Give these alien bastards a shot at citizenship in exchange for 5 years of working here, and they might just sign onto that deal. (Even if what it means to "Be an American" has changed a lot over the past 5 years. If being an American means that when your boss tells you to do this [] to to a 13-year-old, you say "How hard?" instead of "Fuck you, Sir! I quit!", maybe it's not all it's cracked up to be.)

    Disclaimer: Lawful permanent resident who can renew once a decade for the rest of his life if he has to. Was considering naturalization until two weeks ago. If one - just one - of the tens of thousands of TSOs across this country says "enough", and quits in the next month, and goes public with his or her reasoning, I'll fucking file. If you're a TSO and you're reading this: Yeah, that's right, I'm not an American. So no, I don't know what it means to be an American. You are. Show me what it means. You're an American. Act like one.

  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @08:45PM (#34301614)

    "This in turn is eliminating any desire for young people to study science or technology. Why should they, when all those jobs have moved overseas or are being handed out to visa holders? The kids are going to study law or business, things they can use in a third world economy (i.e. the future America)."

    Law or business are the disciplines of the master class, EVERYWHERE, while science and technology are not. The exception of some scientists and geeks doing well is often due to _business_ skill (Bill Gates).

    If one would be one of the masters, studying serf jobs is pointless.

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @08:47PM (#34301620) Homepage

    Going to an Ivy League school doesn't necessarily mean you're smarter; it just means your parents have a lot of money.

    Except that's lot of people at Ivy league schools are students there on scholarships. I wasn't one of those. I went to Yale, and both my parents were Yale grads. I like to think I'm smart, but being from a high income bracket with legacy obviously helped a lot. But many if not most students didn't fall into that sort of category. For example, I knew one person who was the first female in her family to go to college ever and the first one in three generations not to have a teen pregnancy. She got to Yale by being very smart and working really hard.

  • by AnonymousClown ( 1788472 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @08:50PM (#34301634)

    It's amazing how Slashdot's usual libertarian attitude to just about everything develops a strong protectionist bent as soon as American tech jobs are on the line.

    If American firms said, "We're going overseas for cheaper labor." I could accept that. But when they say they are going overseas because US workers aren't good enough, that's just a down right lie and shitty of them and I'll remember - Intel and IBM.

    I understand that there are billions of people on Earth and all of them are just as capable as Americans and as a result, all labor is now a commodity. I accept that. Nothing can be done either and even if there were, I wouldn't want it to be done because that outcome would be worse - I know enough about economics to know that much (See what happened in the 30s when tariffs were enacted ).

    And it's really frustrating when you try to get more education and training to move to another line of work (resulting many times in a shitload of school debt), you have trouble because of age or every other out of work IT guy is jumping at the opportunity (I think there's going to be a HUGE glut of nurses in a few years for one), and you see more go overseas - but you're told the same trite line "you just need to retrain and get education" - it's not working anymore. The economy isn't growing fast enough to employ all the new college grads let alone the millions out of work.

    Shit's not good.

  • Tons of Openings (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Corporate T00l ( 244210 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @09:07PM (#34301712) Journal

    My company (a giant company that purveys giant software to giant customers) and my customers have a never-ending thirst for technical candidates who can speak and write good English, in a way that someone who barely passed TOEFL would not be able to handle.

    The question is not about how "those damn foreigners" are taking jobs away from "us". It's about how we can re-tool ourselves to consistently stay ahead and take advantage of our own unique abilities.

    Think about it, a good programmer isn't just writing code, he or she is also writing specs, writing documentation, and presenting the same. With good communication skills borne of many additional years communicating in English, a domestic candidate has a natural advantage over a foreign candidate. Plus, as people advance in their career and become either engineering managers or architects, what do you think they do more of? Communicating or solo coding?

    The irony is that what I see happen a lot is that the foreign colleague is far more eager to take on what might seem as a less desirable job. Nobody really likes to write 50 pages of specs today, even if they know that it's the specs and the author by-line on those specs that will get spread throughout the organization and live on for years, whereas code only gets unburied from source control where there's a bug. A person's brilliance is demonstrated in their English, less so in their C or Java. Somehow, even though everyone sees this, many people willingly give away this opportunity to a few who are eager for it. And it seems that those who should have a natural advantage, inexplicably, more often give away their edge to those who are less suited, but are hungrier and more eager.

  • Re:An odd comparison (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Corporate T00l ( 244210 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @09:13PM (#34301738) Journal

    Is a $76K/year salary in 2009 for the average engineering school computer science undergraduate (up from $72K in 2008, despite the downturn, according to []) really pissing your money away?

  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @09:20PM (#34301780) Homepage
    Also, the numbers involved seem hilariously small to me. Ooh, wow, 50 people went to work for J Random Outsourcing firm. I care because .... why exactly? I'm sure you could fill a small office building with these people. Scary.

    And even then, the real difference is probably going to be that most of them will be paying US income tax instead of Indian / Chinese income tax.

  • by rickb928 ( 945187 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @09:25PM (#34301800) Homepage Journal

    I'm more interested in why U.S. citizens are consistently found unqualified. And why, in that scenario, we watch as citizens go jobless and even legal visa holders get those jobs.

    Where I'm working, the workforce is changing from fairly well split between U.S. citizens and Indian nationals to a three way mix between citizens, Indians, and Asians. I'm not sure how that is happening. I also see various silos of technical work in many regions, on every continent except Africa and Antarctica. Every continent. Oh, with the notable exception of Europe, where it seems we do precious little development work. Hmm...

    If I had to guess, I think current work allocations are favoring nations where the workers get little protection (Australia, for example has some interesting laws, while Chile doesn't) or the workers have already done the onshore shuffle and rotated back 'home'. Oh, and I dare not start asking about the visa status of some of these workers. It's a sensitive subject. Many will just get up and walk away.

    It's frustrating to see what is clearly basic, everyday work going to visa holders when you know someone who is truly overqualified, but couldn't get past the first interview. As far as I can tell, pay is not the issue.

    But I'm hypersensitive to this. I may be wrong about a lot if what I think, but I'm not yet convinced.

  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @09:45PM (#34301888)

    People have the skills, they just dont have the experience.
    I see it time and time again on IT job sites. I see companies that ask for "3 years experience in " yet no-one is willing to give people like me (someone who has plenty of skills but not enough experience) a chance so that I can GET the jobs where they want experience.

    And I see the same job listed again and again.

    I see article after article where people claim there is an "IT worker shortage". If IT firms were more willing to hire people who have University qualifications and good skills but havent necessarily done real world work, there wouldnt BE a shorage.

  • Re:Been there. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Baba Ram Dass ( 1033456 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @10:23PM (#34302128)

    I agree with everything except your conclusion regarding it not benefiting the economy. Competition on the global scale does indeed benefit the global economy. Global is the keyword. Proof is the rising wages in the countries where outsourcing work is going. You've got to remember that there is an enormous wage gap between the western world and the more poverty stricken world. Competion--in this case of labor--is doing what comppetiton does best: making the commodity more efficient to produce on the whole.

    That's not to imply it doesn't suck for us developers in the States. But the fact is a $3 cut in our pay doesn't have anywhere near the effect a $3 increase on pay has on someone in India or China.

    In the end globalization will benefit everyone in the world. It's like when computers became popular; no one can deny they were good for everyone ultimately. But in the beginning it sure did suck for the people who made and used typewriters.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 21, 2010 @10:38PM (#34302210)

    > The corps are sending our middle class jobs overseas

    They wouldn't if Americans were competitive. But you've built yourselves a culture in which it's almost impossible to *be* competitive. Now your jobs are exported by the thousands to more educated and cheaper places. Good job with that.

    You are not automatically entitled to a job because you're an American. Either you're competitive, or you're not. In the modern world, many kinds of jobs can be easily relocated, so you have to provide more value than those overseas people you bitch about. If you don't... well, sucks to be you.

  • Re:hmmm (Score:1, Interesting)

    by alfaromeo ( 190210 ) on Sunday November 21, 2010 @10:45PM (#34302236)

    +1 for this. Many "American programmers" expect jobs to come to them, not the other way round. The entitlement emirs expect jobs to be served on a platter.

  • by macshit ( 157376 ) <.snogglethorpe. .at.> on Sunday November 21, 2010 @11:51PM (#34302550) Homepage

    And if anyone wants to complain about these programs taking jobs from U.S. citizens, then it should start by reducing the number of student visas on offer. Once someone is well trained by our schools it's insane to not let them stay and add to our GDP.

    My impression (from helping a foreign national through the application process) is that many universities (including Ivy League universities) treat foreign students as something of a cash-cow: unlike U.S. citizens, foreign nationals receive no discounts and no assistance from the university, regardless of financial hardship, and so end up paying the full price up front (there are exceptions, like Harvard, but they're very rare). The more famous the name, the more willing they're to pay, even at Ivy League prices.

    So I expect if anyone suggests limiting student visas, universities will freak.

    Moreover, from a less cynical point of view, limiting the number of foreign students will make universities poorer places in non-financial terms as well — the presence of people from many cultures, with many different points of view, is one of the things that make universities a cool place to be, and makes for a more vibrant and intellectually stimulating environment. Restricting that for short-term protectionist reasons would be folly.

    [I'd suggest that the same thing holds generally, despite all the anti-H1B whining on slashdot, but in the case of universities, it's an especially aburd notion.]

  • Re:hmmm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @12:01AM (#34302608) Journal

    And their work ethic sucks because the jobs that used to teach them are all taken by illegals.

    Their work ethic sucks because they were raised with a sense of entitlement. Their parents didn't teach them to work. Mexicans have parents who teach them to work hard. Americans would rather play.

    That is a generalization, of course, and as with all generalizations, has some truth and some falseness.

  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @12:16AM (#34302700)
    A lot of us didn't have the opportunity to dream of going to such schools due to not being able to afford it. You have to make a hell of a lot of money to afford to go to those schools, or pray for financial aid. Sure there's beginning to be a thing about not leaving graduates with debts, but for a lot of people it's not something that we're realistically able to expect.

    In my experience, admittedly not at an ivy league or even private school, scholarships are horribly biased upon who you are and what you're wanting to do. Unfortunately, it matters a lot what your color is and what groups you're affiliated with. It shouldn't matter, but it does, and there's no good way of predicting what sorts of scholarships are going to be available.

    But, at the end of the day, I went to a state school here for a fraction of what the Ivy League cost, and the only thing they've got that I don't is connections. Is that really the same thing as a quality education? Of course not, but a quality education doesn't get you much if you don't have the connections to get the interview.
  • Re:Scary aliens (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shadowofwind ( 1209890 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @01:31AM (#34303072)

    There's some truth in what you say, but it isn't at all the whole story, at least not where I've worked. Probably there are regional differences.

    I agree that immigration isn't the real problem, and certainly the immigrants aren't to blame in any case.

    I graduated from a decent school twenty years ago with an engineering degree, high grades, and a strong work ethic. I was never able to get so much as an interview at a company like Intel. The people who I know who got in all had some kind of nepotist connection, except for one guy who eventually snuck in via technical support and got an engineering job later. I was never given a chance. Its true that you probably wouldn't be able to hire me, because my skills are probably not exactly in the area you need. Everything is so highly specialized now. But companies are short sighted, and managers put their own needs before the needs of the larger organization. I know I could have been much more effective than a great many of the people they wound up with.

  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Monday November 22, 2010 @01:51AM (#34303168) Homepage Journal

    Probably just being used for the cash flow. The nifty thing, from these for-profit "tech universities" point of view, is that now all the student loans are guaranteed by the government (meaning the taxpayers) so their profits are assured even if the student is a complete loser... and they cater to losers in the first place (you pretty much can't get turned down, so long as your loan goes through). BTW this is straight from a friend who works as a recruiter at one of these "tech universities". Interestingly, the tuition is about four times higher than the equivalent courses would cost at the nearby state university.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, 2010 @02:23AM (#34303274)

    I go to a community college, they've been able to keep the cost of tuition the same for the past 5 years, there have been no layoffs, getting a degree from them is actually highly regarded in the area. They also accept pretty much anyone with a GED or better. Why to people pay to go to private tech schools again?

  • by Fallen Kell ( 165468 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @02:54AM (#34303376)
    I worked my butt off and I got into all three Ivy League schools I applied to, but I didn't get a good enough scholarship to be able to afford going to any of them. I did get a very large scholarship to go to a lesser known school, which is where I went due directly to the financial issues. While I was never "poor" growing up, my parents and I certainly couldn't afford the $30,000+ a year over scholarship awards that it would have cost to go to the Ivy schools.

    That said, I have no idea how my life would be if I hadn't gone where I did... I, for the most part, enjoy my job, which is something a lot of people do not get to say. While I would probably be making a lot more money, would already own a house, etc., etc., I am pretty content with how things turned out so far.
  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @03:02AM (#34303412) Journal

    So would I, but this program doesn't accomplish that. It just gives the offshoring companies a couple of years to train the "graduate" before sending the job to Asia.

    For a program that works, simply mandate that employer initiates a sponsored green card process as soon as the new employee is hired. That would filter out those who don't actually want to stay.

  • Re:An odd comparison (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Eskarel ( 565631 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @04:25AM (#34303768)

    My point was primarily that the Ivy league is seriously overrated, especially the sort of premiere Ivy league schools which everyone associates as being Ivy league schools(Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Brown, etc). The big two Harvard and Yale in particular are astoundingly poor for certain kinds of degrees. Their admission criteria also reflect this.

    I may have overstated my case somewhat, but my point still stands. If you want to get a top notch Engineering or Computer Science degree, there are a number of schools which are substantially better than most of the Ivy League schools including some public schools.

    Yes you're right, Cornell has a good department(I confess I'd forgotten Cornell was even considered an Ivy school), and Princeton appears to be reasonable. However if you look at this [] list, you'll see that 10 public universities outrank Harvard and Columbia, and three outrank Princeton.

    Given how high the tuition for places like Harvard are, and how extreme the admission criteria. They just don't seem to be worth it for this kind of degree. I got my CS undergrad at UW-Madison, and my tuition for all 4 years was less than a single year at Harvard, and it was a hell of a lot easier to get into.

    If you're going to jump through hoops to get into an extremely prestigious private school you'd do better with CMU, MIT, or Stanford.

    I'm not an expert on the natural sciences, but I stand by the fact that going to an Ivy for CS is pissing your money away. If you're looking for an expensive private school there are better ones, and there are plenty of top tier public universities which won't require you to give up every single second of your life during high school to get in.

    The Ivy League is great for some things, but at that kind of money and time invested just to get in, I just really don't see them being a contender for comp sci degrees.

  • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @04:32AM (#34303780) Journal

    Organized labor isn't going to do anything other then turn the tech industry into GM that fails or abandons entire states like Michigan in search of profit.

    Why do you think it would be different then what we have already seen? And why do you think voting politics would make any difference? I mean the democrats controlled both houses of congress in 2008 when this emergency rule was made, they now control both houses of congress as well as the executive and have done nothing to end this practice. You act as if there is some magical choice when there isn't.

  • by martas ( 1439879 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @05:42AM (#34304062)
    Actually, that stuff about different cultures creating a "vibrant" learning environment and all that crap is only true under certain conditions. All too often I see that as the number of students with similar cultural backgrounds increases, they just create their own little community, and completely shut themselves in. You can see this with students from China, India, and, guess where else? Nope, the US! That's right - most American-born students themselves aren't willing to spend any time with the foreign students, thus getting no benefit from their existence.

    This is actually a pretty interesting topic, unfortunately I know nothing about it outside of my own observations...
  • by wrook ( 134116 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @08:34AM (#34304758) Homepage

    Well, I was going to call bullshit on this, but I checked and it seems Indian Software developers make less than $7K US per year. I'm pretty frugal and even I would have a hard time living on less than $10K in the west.

    It is interesting, though. I've been through enough outsourcing disasters to know that even at 10x the cost, it's worth it to have your management and developers on the same continent. As someone else said, surely someone will think of doing something like doubling the salary, skimming off all the best Indian (or whatever) programmers and kicking everyone else's butt. I guess the saving grace is that there is hardly anyone that knows how to hire programmers and get something other than completely random skill levels...

  • Re:Scary aliens (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sydneyfong ( 410107 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @09:15AM (#34304960) Homepage Journal

    I'm sorry, but the only explanation is that you don't want to pay enough. The idea of a *constant* shortage makes no sense. It defies the basic laws of economics.

    Ever crossed your mind that the number of people who have certain level of talent and skill level are limited? Your so called laws of economics would say that if I were willing to pay $1M salary for a certain position, there'd be thousands of qualified individuals lining out there waiting to be interviewed, even if in fact there are only a handful of them out there in the real world.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"