We don’t need more H1-Bs, we need more immigrants

H1-Bs are a popular topic in Washington. Tech companies want them, since it lets them get the benefits of offshoring without actually offshoring, and politicians want them because companies want them, and they talk about luring the best minds to the United States as a side benefit. It’s such a great deal, they say, they want to bring in five times as many of them as they used to.

The problem is, they don’t stay. H1Bs aren’t about immigration–3% of H1B workers stay in the United States.

I’m all for immigration. St. Louis had a wave of immigrants from Bosnia in the 1990s, and those immigrants and their descendants are a fantastic reminder of how this country is supposed to work. They’ve come in, they’ve revitalized parts of the city that were down on their luck. They’ve worked hard to afford to buy homes, often working side jobs in addition to their regular jobs, they’ve taken pride in what they bought and fixed it up, they’ve started businesses, and they’ve proven the American Dream is still alive and well as their second generation thrives here.

That’s what we need. Not mercenaries who come here and go back overseas after a year or two when their visa is up, taking the money and the knowledge they’ve gained with them.

I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating. In 2005, I would answer my phone for anybody, so I took a lot of job interviews that I wouldn’t otherwise. I think one recruiter even pretty much admitted they’d try to get an H1B to fill the position–a helpdesk job paying $25,000 a year. I was severely overqualified for the job, and I wasn’t sure what part of St. Louis I could afford to live in given that salary, but I told him to put me in for it because $25,000 is better than $0. I didn’t get a second phone call.

Around the same time, I got a phone call from someone recruiting for a large company that will remain nameless, but there’s a very good chance that at some point in your adult life, you got a bill from them every month. I got the call because I made the amount of money they wanted to pay, and I spelled “Unix” correctly on my resume. The big things they wanted were a master’s degree and considerable Oracle and Unix experience. I lacked the master’s degree and Oracle experience, and my Unix experience was less than what they were after.

Even in St. Louis, someone with those three things going for them will make double what I was making then. I was underqualified for the position and they knew it; I’m sure I was one of the exhibits showing why they couldn’t find a qualified U.S. citizen.

Qualified people existed, of course; this company just didn’t want to pay the prevailing wage for them. I’m sure they didn’t mention any of those guys on the H1-B form.

Let’s get unemployment rates back down to to 1999 levels and see how many tech workers we need to bring in then. But not before.

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