Enlarging--and Enriching--the U.S. Labor Pool: Page 3

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Not so fast, counters Ted Ruthizer, coauthor with Suzette Brooks Masters, of the Cato Institute paper. Ruthizer is a partner and head of the Immigration Law Group at Robinson Silverman Pearce Aronsohn & Berman LLP, a New York law firm. He and Brooks Masters write that "reports of systematic underpayment and fraud in the program are false."

As evidence, they lay out statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division showing that from 1991 (the first year H-1B caps were in place) through late 1999, the Labor Department granted almost 525,000 H-1B visas and received only 448 complaints of underpayment and other abuses. The department chose to investigate 304 of those complaints. At the time Ruthizer and Brooks Master wrote the Cato report, violations were found in 134 of the 159 completed investigations.

While that guilty percentage is high--so far, 84% of the investigations are yielding violations--even if all 304 complaints caught employers red-handed it would mean 99.99943% of the 525,000 H-1B visas were squeaky clean. Not bad.
So You Want to Import an IT Worker
You've found the perfect candidate, and now it's time to face the bureaucracy: the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The INS site has an H-1B section that includes instructions, forms, and a list of frequently asked questions. As a sponsoring employer, you'll need to file a labor condition application. Next you'll file an I-129 petition with the INS and pay $500. If and when your petition is approved, the worker can apply for the actual visa.

The main tip from IT managers who've run this gauntlet is to start early and persevere.

H-1Bs in the Real World

Asked if his organization uses H-1B visas to hire cheap help, John Oster just laughs. Oster is vice president of development at payroll giant ADP Inc.'s Rockville, Md.-based dealer services unit, which caters to auto dealerships. "We've got full-time legal counsel working on this," he says, of his firm's efforts to get H-1B workers into the United States. "Does that sound cheap? This is very much commercial-rate work, driven by recruiting needs. It's not cheap at all."

In Oster's group of about 20 developers, who work primarily in Oracle, C and C++, about half are H-1B employees from Russia, Ghana, India, and China. He knows the system and says, "It's been frustrating, having the politics of the government work against you." Oster has experienced the same problem a number of times.

Moreover, he says the visas' "effect on [foreign-born] associates is pretty damning. These folks spend a lot of time tracking [their visa status] because it's their lives. That hurts a cohesive organization." It's hard to keep a team focused when half its members are worried about getting booted out of the country. "I'd like to see the process much more predictable," Oster adds.

Asked if his U.S.-born developers see the visa holders as depriving natives of jobs, Oster says, "No, there's no resentment at all." In fact, he's observed that a "mixed" group complements each other's programming approach: "U.S. [engineers] are quick on their feet but less rigorous; the foreigners tend to be more rigorous."

The Outlook

Experts expect Clinton to sign the bill, which spent months hung up in a congressional game of pat-a-cake, as various politicians attached unrelated and semirelated measures such as illegal-immigrant forgiveness measures.

For the first time, Washington, D.C.-based special-interest behemoth American Federation of Labor (AFL) has agreed that the numbers need to rise. The AFL is the most powerful organized labor group in the country, and one of its top goals has always been to keep as many jobs as possible in the hands of U.S. citizens. Its acquiescence on this measure is a sign that the momentum is strong. This leads even FAIR's Martin to concede that "Nobody [powerful] on either side is expressing real reservations. The opposition is all coming from grass-roots organizations."

In the end, the most powerful argument in favor of a higher H-1B cap may revolve around philosophy rather than hard numbers. With its roots in academia, the technology world wants to be a pure meritocracy. Your nationality, your gender, and the thickness of your dissertation don't count for much: Ideas rule. Can an arbitrary number dreamed up by a Washington pencil-pusher stand up against such a powerful ideal? //

Steve Ulfelder, a freelance writer, lives in Southboro, Mass. His Internet address is sulfelder@charter.net.

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