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H-1B at 20: How the 'tech worker visa' is remaking IT

Patrick Thibodeau | Nov. 17, 2010
This news analysis is part of our special report on the 20th anniversary of the H-1B visa, which also includes first-person accounts from five IT workers who have been directly affected by the H-1B program and visual and interactive tools to help you analyze H-1B visa data.

Boxer repeatedly attacked Fiorina for layoffs and offshoring during her years at HP. Boxer won re-election. Another ex-CEO, Meg Whitman of eBay, who was defeated in her run for governor of California, was also hit on the outsourcing issue.

"The fact that these two tech CEOs did not win I think sends a message to both parties. There is some popular discontent that [they] don't understand," said Norman Matloff, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis, who testified in Congress in 1998 on what he called the myth of a software labor shortage.

Although there is an ongoing push for immigration reform in Congress, both sides on this issue are doubtful that the election divisions will lead to new legislation. H-1B opponents, however, are fearful that a bill to raise the H-1B cap could be attached to an appropriations bill during the lame-duck session before January.

As for U.S. IT workers themselves, activism ebbs and flows regarding the H-1B issue, says John Miano, who founded the Programmers Guild to organize IT workers in 1998, when Congress began expanding the H-1B program. Miano himself was working as an IT consultant at AIG in the mid-1990s when the company hired an outsourcer who used H-1B workers to replace U.S. workers.

"Even at the peaks, [techies] tend to be moderately active -- they are not into politics and things," says Miano. (See H-1B: The voices behind the visa for thoughts from some U.S. IT workers on why they feel the need to stay anonymous in their criticism of the H-1B program.)

As for Serrano, her layoff from IBM will mean a change of careers as she heads back to school to pursue a degree in nursing. She feels her IT career prepared her well for nursing because both fields require people who are detail-oriented and cool under pressure. An ideal outcome of the nursing training, she says, would be to combine her IT and nursing skills into a health informatics career.

The contractor that Serrano trained at IBM was from China, but Serrano didn't know her immigration status. And despite having to train her replacement, Serrano says she had a good relationship with the woman, "because she's just another person that's struggling in a whole world of struggling individuals."

Serrano says she isn't bitter. She sees the struggle facing IT workers today paralleling the same kinds of challenges that workers of earlier generations faced. But she would like to see a change in the national discussion on offshoring.

Serrano believes that businesses and government need to be "completely open about what's going on" -- about offshore outsourcing and reasons behind it.


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