You Down With H-1B? (No, you must NOT know me…)

Much hubbub has been aired about H-1B visas in the technology world.  In a blog post I wrote more than three years ago, I argued that our jobs are going to India.  That’s even truer today, thanks to government-imposed limits on the number of H-1B visas that can be issued in any year.

I’m frankly mildly surprised that I still have a job.  In the US.  Programming.

You’ll find economists, politicians, lobbyists, and corporate representatives arguing every which way about H-1Bs.  Those defending H-1Bs tend to be corporations that claim to need the foreign work force in order to compete internationally.  Those against H-1Bs tend to give variations of the age-old xenophobic concern about foreigners “taking over US jobs.”  This, incidentally, is why many of these debates feature charts about how many H-1Bs come from India, while no one seems to ask much about the number of foreigners coming in through the lax E-3 visa for Australians.

But hey, I love Australians.  Men at Work.  Paul Hogan.  INXS.  Elle McPherson.  Fosters.  I say we send them all over.

Point is, many people aren’t so sure about Indians (#1 in H-1Bs).  Or the Chinese (#2).  It’s jolly good fun to see Paul Hogan advertising Suburu Outbacks for decades at a time.  But Suresh Patel singing about a place “where women glow and men chunder?”  Or Li-Wen Chen talking about how Tsingtao “is Chinese for BEER!?”  It just doesn’t seem natural.  It seems decidedly un-American, absolutely too much shock and awe.

I’m apparently not alone in this point of view.  The E-3 visa for Australians was enacted as part of The Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief.  Australians = Good For National Defense.  Indian & Chinese = Not So Much.

Let’s set aside the issue of race and just focus on raw capitalistic greed.  This turns out to be my fundamental problem with limiting H-1Bs.  As a hiring manager in a US-based software company, I find it crippling in a sledgehammer-directly-to-the-ankle sort of way not to be able to hire more programmers from other countries.  I’m also deeply worried about how this is visibly eroding US dominance in software.  The people are flowing the wrong way.  The money is flowing the wrong way.  In the name of protectionism, we’re wholesale encouraging and enabling, aiding and abetting, international competition.

This year, my relatively small team (~25 developers) is aiming to hire another ~20 developers.  In order to meet these hiring goals, we will likely need to put some of these developers in Vancouver, Canada because they can’t get H-1Bs to work in the US.  Some will accept the offer.  Some, unable to enter the US and reluctant to move to Canada-eh?, will instead stay in their home country.  This is a doubly-bad thing.  Sure, you lose a perfectly fine programmer.  But you’ll get over that.  Ten years from now, that fine programmer is on stage at some huge convention in Bangalore unveiling a breakthrough ad featuring a woman tossing a sledgehammer through some huge screen televising a boring speech by some US-based software CEO about being the ”dot” in dot-bomb, or realizing your potential, or not being evil.  That’ll be the day when the second, far bigger blow is dealt, when we’ll all wish we could rewind Ace-Ventura-style back to The Glory Days when the US Was Software and All Seemed Well.

Limiting well-qualified soon-to-be-American foreign talent from joining us can’t be good.  I’d love for Suresh to come to the US, code on my team, defeat competitors internationally, and buy a huge Cadillac Escalade.  I’d love for him to revel in capitalism with his hard-earned US dollars, spending obscene amounts of money supporting US businesses.  After the pledge of allegiance, he’d fit right in!

And for those of you who are a bit reluctant to trust in Suresh or Li-Wen’s US citizenship and subsequent allegiance to our beloved country, we could always choose to detain them indefinitely in GitMo should we find ourselves on orange alert against India or China.  It’s never too late to renege on habeas corpus!

We need to let these folks in.  Actually, we need to be actively encouraging them to bring their talent to the US.  This is about the long-term survival of US dominance in software, not just about uncle Vinny who's been known to occasionally code in VB.

There, I've said it.  Everything after this is statistics.


Fun Facts About H-1Bs


Currently, 65,000 H-1Bs are issued each year.  10,500 E-3’s are allowed.

Funny enough, 6,800 H-1B1’s (valid only for Chileans and Singaporeans) are allowed each year.  If anybody can explain this as anything other than the perversion of lobbyists and special interests, please write me.

Fun facts taken directly from the USCIS (what does it mean when the “latest available government statistics on H-1Bs” is from 2003?):

·         Nearly 37 percent of all petitions approved in fiscal year 2003 were for workers born in India.

·         Sixty-five percent of petitions approved in fiscal year 2003 were for workers between the ages of 25 and 34. The average age of beneficiaries approved in fiscal year 2003 was 32 years.

·         One-half of petitions approved in fiscal year 2003 were for workers with a bachelor's degree. Thirty-one percent had a master's degree.

·         Thirty-nine percent of petitions approved in fiscal year 2003 were for workers in computer-related occupations.

·         The median salary was $52,000 for workers whose petitions were approved in fiscal year 2003. For workers in computer-related occupations, the median salary was $60,000.

The spread of occupations, once again from the USCIS’s 2003 data: 

·         Computer-related occupations: 39%

·         Occupations in architecture, engineering, and surveying: 12%

·         Occupations in education: 11%

·         Occupations in administrative specializations: 11%

·         Occupations in medicine and health: 7%

Computer-related occupations had a median salary of $60k.  Interestingly enough, fashion models with H-1Bs, of which there were 592 (0.3%) in 2003 (I am not making this up), earned a median income of $100k.  This, incidentally, is the highest of all H-1B occupations by a big margin.  The closest runner-up was “occupations in law and jurisprudence,” weighing in at $70k.

The top 10 H-1B employers in technology for 2006, according to InformationWeek, were the following:




H-1Bs received 2006



Bangalore, Karnataka, India




Bangalore, Karnataka, India




Redmond, Washington




Mumbai, Maharashtra, India




Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India



Cognizant Technology Solutions

Teaneck, New Jersey[28]



Patni Computer Systems

Mumbai, Maharashtra, India




Armonk, New York



Oracle Corporation

Redwood Shores, California



Larsen & Toubro Infotech

Mumbai, Maharashtra, India



Note that 6 of the top 10 were India-based companies.  That may be a legitimate thing the protectionists might want to fix.

A 1998 Harris Poll showed that 82% of Americans opposed increases in H-1B visas.  Then again, 47% of Americans aged 18-24 could not find India on a map, and 60% still cannot find Iraq on a map, according to CNN.  At least they know they don’t want more Indians here.

IEEE-USA lobbied against an H-1B increase several years ago.  Presumably, they represent the majority of computer workers in the US.  This boggles my mind.

There’s no “shortage of IT workers in the US,” given that companies like Cisco and Microsoft reject the overwhelming majority of resumes (95% and 98%, respectively – that’s rejected).  However, remember that due to simple statistics, this doesn’t mean there’s a glut of great US IT folks either:  a less-skilled or less-competitive candidate is far more likely to send his/her resume to more companies, thereby inflating rejection rates.  There’s no shortage of people, just a shortage of really good ones.


Comments (6)

  1. Yogesh Mulye says:

    Interesting read this one. The figures all around were quite startling.

    I think you will find that the lure to USA is not as it used to be in 98 and 2003. Today, best IT jobs in India pay equivalent of say $52000 in Indian rupees. Why would the best want to leave the comforts of traditionalIndian family life, great food, and the truck loads of money to spend?

    I’d say majority of the current crop of H1Bs are really going to be your average Joe programmers who may not make in big in any Indian IT companies.

  2. vivek says:

    hi yogesh, who is paying 52000 $ in india, may be to a  leader or manager which just fights to take credits of people who really does the work, even MNCs are not paying that much, and as per  work programmers are coolies in india. nobody is even willing to pay  more then Rs 5 lakh for 2 and 1/2 years of c++ experience, even if you are good, ya if you are not good and you  can play politics you will get good money, a fortune 500 companies pay 4 lakh to 2 years experience in india are in that list, and no doubt work is not a devlopment work. ya one thing is sure politicians can get good money at indian software companies, good people will need to move to US for long term.

  3. Stanly Johnson says:

    Thats a very good article there.

    I think Yogesh is kind of right.

    A 32  (average age of a H1B benificiary) year old guy in india should be a TL/ PM/ Architect with 11-12 years experience. The average salary (if he is really good) will be Rs 14 lacs+. With all the tax rebates you have in india you can easily get 11.5 lacs after tax, which is ~30000 US$.

    If you are staying in your home town with your own house and a car, all that will be required for a very decent living will be say 2.4 lacs, so you save a flat 9 lacs, (that is a whooping 20000 USD only in saving every year)

    In US for $60000 all that you get is $40000 after tax. You have to pay your insurance, rent, food, car emi, phone bills, gifts to your relatives,  etc, i dont think you can save much.

    All this after you miss the comforts of traditional indian family life, great food, and the truck loads of money to spend?

    hey guys i do not mean to hurt any ones feelings. Just put down my thoughts.

  4. Kevin Eshbach says:

    Just curious but how many resumes do Cisco and Microsoft receive a year?  Is it in the hundred of thousands or low millions?

  5. philipsu says:

    Kevin — I don’t have specifc numbers, but I suspect Microsoft receives hundreds of thousands of resumes a year, not millions.  Microsoft is hiring thousands of people this year, so a 98% "rejection rate" (depending on whether that means "never contacted the candidate" or it’s loose language for a "2% acceptance/hired rate") suggests hundreds of thousands of resumes.  Also, according to the NSF, about 10,000 people in the US graduated with "science & engineering" degrees in 2003.  Some subset of those are computer science majors.  This, with some imagination, also suggests resumes on the order of several hundred thousand (if you estimate some small percentage of resumes are for campus-hires as opposed to industry folks).

    This is all back-of-the-envelope, so I could be completely wrong.

  6. Vijay says:

    Love your funny takes on tech…landed here after reading your write-up for Office Hours. You should certainly write more…after all, the more the merrier 🙂

    The allure of a US stint hasn’t cooled in India…folks do want to get some international exposure similar to American professionals heading to India or China. But, one aspect that has changed is that many don’t want to take up long term assignments abroad. With the Indian economy on the upswing and plenty of opportunity to make it big back home, most professionals are opting to take up challenges in India rather than settle down abroad and contribute to economies of other countries.

    If you like computer problem cartoons, do come by

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