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The H-1B debate has been kicked up a notch, as a consequence of the increasing unemployment numbers. Sen. Grassley (R-Iowa) is now requesting that since there are plenty of unemployed US citizens (who presumably have the credentials that meet the requirements the H-1B visa holders are supposed to fill), companies should let the H-1B visa holders go before any others. I should also point out that the US Congress has recently banned companies receiving TARP bailout money from hiring H-1B visa holders.

Here are a few CNBC videos where this was recently debated:







What I hope will come of these debates is, at the very least, baseline criteria that identifies the minimal qualifications for being a tech worker, such as we have with exams like the LSAT and MCAT. Thus, at the very least, when someone prepares for a tech interview, they at least know what they must know, instead of having to worry about whether to focus on memorizing tcpdump commands, or C++ language constructs, or the different management strategies of Star Trek captains. I also hope that it becomes clear that the discussions about hiring and retaining the "brightest and best" do not pertain to the H-1B visa program as stated, and there should be a different conversation about other (perhaps new) visa programs that can meet this need. At least there is one productive result of the H-1B scrutiny: some visa fraudsters have been arrested.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
fauxklore
Mar. 7th, 2009 10:36 am (UTC)
1) I have a lot of qualms about assuming there are plenty of laid-off U.S. citizens with credentials equivalent to those of H-1B visa workers.

2) The videos showed the number of H-1B workers at various companies a couple of times. But, frankly, it tells me nothing to say Microsoft has 1000 H-1B holders without telling me how many employees Microsoft has overall and in what employment categories.

3) I believe that creating a qualification "like the LSAT and MCAT" for tech workers would be a way to stifle innovation. ONe of the big problems with science and math education in the U.S. is already that things are taught to the test, not in a way that actually encourages problem solving.

And, actually, in engineering there is already an equivalent. The EIT exam is taken at about the same time in one's education as the LSAT or MCAT. And just as the LSAT does not replace the bar exam and the MCAT does not replace the medical boards, the EIT is a stepping stone to PE certification. The debate about professional certification for engineers has been going on as far back as I can remember. (It's more or less a universal requirement for civil engineers and is common for mechanical engineers in certain fields, e.g. HVAC. But I don't know of anyone in aerospace who has ever bothered.)

Nor do those exams do anything about the interview questions you mention. Frankly, I would be more likely to hire somebody who had the initiative to do some homework to find out enough about my corporate culture to have an idea of what types of questions he or she might be asked than somebody who expected to be asked about a rote body of knowledge.
gregbo
Mar. 8th, 2009 02:44 am (UTC)
Why don't you believe that there are plenty of laid off US citizens with equivalent credentials to H-1B workers? Here in the Silicon Valley, many tech workers are laid off, while H-1Bs are hired. Some tech workers are required to train their replacements. So at least some of these people were getting the job done, then asked to train someone else (who presumably did not know how to do the job, otherwise why would they need to be trained?). Even ignoring that, if you look at résumés of H-1B workers, you can see that there are US citizens who have equivalent credentials (assuming none of them are lying).

CNBC may not have the breakdown of tech company employees by category. I don't think companies are required to provide this information to the general public. (But to obtain H-1B visas in excess of the current cap, perhaps they should be. It's something that could be part of the discussion – how they can better justify their actual needs.)

Some people seem to think standardized tests stifle innovation; I don't see why. MCATs don't stifle medical innovation, for example. They just provide a baseline for required knowledge. It sets minimal expectations. All these companies have claimed that "there aren't enough engineering and science graduates available" without quantifying what they mean. This is one way of quantifying that. Maybe it can be something like the SAT or GRE. I don't really care what it is, as long as it is accepted as evidence of a certain level of competence, and people can easily and inexpensively get representative sample exams.

And, actually, in engineering there is already an equivalent. The EIT exam is taken at about the same time in one's education as the LSAT or MCAT.

But there is no such exam in software engineering, system administration, database administration, or other computer industry subfields that is universally recognized.

Nor do those exams do anything about the interview questions you mention. Frankly, I would be more likely to hire somebody who had the initiative to do some homework to find out enough about my corporate culture to have an idea of what types of questions he or she might be asked than somebody who expected to be asked about a rote body of knowledge.

But some of these companies ask highly specific questions that are designed to make candidates who can actually do the jobs fail, so they can make the argument that they need people on H-1B visas because no one's qualified. Because these companies want the government (ie. the people) involved, they should establish criteria that is in line with what government expects. Right now, we do not have this. It's trivially easy to design questions that few can answer; it's difficult to assess a minimal level of competence. That is why there is a need for openness and transparency so that more proper criteria can be established.

At the very least, raising awareness of the problems with the existing H-1B visa program has brought some of the visa fraudsters to justice. I think this is a good thing.
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