Corporate Turnaround Exec: Raising H-1B Visa Cap Just Makes Economic Sense

Don Tennant

There’s probably no more hotly contested issue in the IT realm than the legitimacy of the H-1B visa program, and the concomitant debate over whether there is a shortage of workers in the United States who have the technology skills that companies need. There are very smart, passionate people on both sides of the debate, so no matter which side you come down on, intelligent, dedicated people will conclude that you have no idea what you’re talking about. And a fringe element in both camps will publicly vilify you for what is perceived as ignorance, agenda advancement, or a mix of the two.

Consequently, there are a lot of people who refuse to take a public stand on the issue. I routinely raise the H-1B question when I interview IT executives, and more than you might imagine lack the courage to voice their opinion on the record. Kathleen Brush isn’t one of them.

Brush is the corporate turnaround executive I wrote about last week in my post, “Cleaning Up IT Management Messes: Dirty Work, But Somebody Has to Do It.” She has worked for a lot of IT companies, and has a Ph.D. in management and international studies, so I figured it would be worth a shot to ask the H-1B question. “Where do you come down on the H-1B visa debate?” I asked. “Should the cap be raised because we need more H-1B workers? Is the program robbing qualified Americans of their jobs? Where does the truth lie, in your view?” Brush didn’t hesitate:

We need to raise the cap on the H-1B visas. I don’t think Americans are being robbed of jobs. I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying the graduation rates, and I have a lot of statistics on it. When you look at the people who are graduating with STEM degrees, in graduate school it’s something like 60 percent are foreign; most of them are Asian. When you look at the shortages of engineers in the United States, the shortage of IT workers, you can tie that back to which ethnicities study which types of subjects. Without question, it’s the Asians. It’s not all Asians, but it’s a lot of them—that includes the Chinese and the Indians, which is the vast majority. Those are the ethnic groups that are most likely to study for any type of STEM degree. There has been a marked trend in—let’s call them the European Americans—moving away from studying the STEM programs. Latin Americans and African Americans have never really had strong percentages studying in the STEM programs. So we’ve got a bit of a challenge here. For some reason, we have made it more attractive for students to study political science or sociology or other non-STEM fields. And that’s a problem.

One of the other reasons that I would like the H-1B pool to be increased is because that’s the pool that’s pulled from for who’s going to get green cards. And we need more [U.S. residents] with STEM degrees. So I want those H-1B visas to go to people who have the skills that we need, and then I want to pull from that group for the new Americans. That makes economic sense to me. It may not make any other sense, but to me it makes economic sense, completely.</blockquote>

“So you don’t buy the arguments of people like Dr. Norm Matloff of the University of California at Davis, who contents that H-1B workers are displacing older American IT workers, and others who say the H-1B program brings in low-wage workers who take U.S. jobs?” I asked. She said she does not:

I’ve had a lot of H-1B visa folks working for me. They made the same salaries as everyone else. We didn’t pay them any less. I’m one of these people who knows I’m not supposed to apply for a visa if I’ve got an American who can do the job. I don’t care if the person is young, old, green, or orange. If they were American and they could do the job, they got the job before I would ever consider an H-1B visa holder. There may be some people cheating the system, but I never ran across them. Everyone that I knew was pretty in tune to that. I never met an HR director who wasn’t fully aware of what the requirements were.

I noted that some of the big Indian IT services providers like Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services have enjoyed a lot of success in this country, so I asked Brush whether there are any leadership qualities that those companies tend to demonstrate that the leaders in U.S. IT companies would do well to emulate. She said nothing came to mind:

I’ve worked with Wipro and Infosys, but I don’t know that I noticed anything. It was sort of nice that they met the requirements for a job—they were given specs, and they simply met the specs, without providing any excuses as to why they were going to be delayed. I think that’s more the nature of the beast, being an outsourcing firm. But I didn’t notice that there were any management techniques that I wanted to borrow.

Finally, I asked Brush whether there are any management techniques that are prevalent in the United States that these Indian outsourcing companies would do well to emulate. Quite a bit came to mind:

One of the things we do in the United States, and I think it’s because we have to, is there’s more attention given to different ways to motivate employees. I’m pretty sure I’m right here, that most Indian workers, and I believe Chinese workers as well, they’re motivated by their paychecks. Their paychecks can provide them with a lot of things they’ve never had before. In the United States, we sort of take for granted a car, and nice accommodations, etc. In developing countries like India, people are more motivated to get those things. If you look at Maslow, they’re more motivated towards those lower-order needs, whereas in the U.S. it’s the higher order. But the fact is, once that Indian worker has that car and nice accommodations, they too can be motivated to produce quite a bit more by giving attention to those other things, those less-tangible things, such as appealing to their desire to achieve, to be somebody. One of the things that you find in India and China is they don’t have the system we have in the United States, which is pretty darn close to being egalitarian-oriented in terms of the person who’s going to get the plum project, or a nice promotion, is going to be the person who earned it. It doesn’t matter if they’re from Punjab or Hyderabad—it just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what family they came from. The only thing that matters is their performance. I think that can be very motivational.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 13, 2013 10:14 AM Joe Blocks Joe Blocks  says:
."I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying the graduation rates, and I have a lot of statistics on it."" Or in other words, she hasn't any on the ground knowledge or doesn't talk about it here. She is of course forgetting all the US IT people laid off and replaced by H1Bs.. They all do -because they want young indentured servants - not older folks with mortgages etc.. anyway the H1Bs they are after are not highly trained - just have Indian BS degrees - they could train US AA degree holders and do as well Just the usual Reply
May 13, 2013 2:19 PM Dolores Dolores  says:
So, you found someone up in the corporate skybox to say that all the rest of us are wrong and everything is hunky-dory. We here on the ground, the grass-roots IT workers, know perfectly well what we are seeing and we are not fooled by whoever you may come up with. Reply
May 13, 2013 4:49 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:
There is ample research from academia indicating a surplus of STEM talent. Let's forget about that and assume you happen to be one of those people who believe research concocted by industry groups or front groups like NFAP - and you buy into the shortage claims. Even if there were a shortage, there is still this issue of ethics and American values you've got to consider when it comes to the H-1b visa. Let's say you're one of the people who do not care about the American workers impacted by the program, who have either been displaced or had their wages reduced as a result of it. Maybe you believe the Indian press and NFAP in that it actually creates more American jobs and lifts our stories. That is absolute nonsense, but OK I'll play along. The H-1b visa is an employer sponsored visa; employers can sponsor you as a worker, and they can choose to stop sponsoring you as a worker. They not only have the ability to fire you but they have additional leverage: they can end your right to live and work in this country. It's indentured servitude and it belongs in the history books. Does anyone care to explain their support for slavery's first-cousin: indentured servitude? Reply
May 13, 2013 4:53 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:
"One of the things we do in the United States, and I think it’s because we have to, is there’s more attention given to different ways to motivate employees. " Oh, like threaten to revoke their sponsorship or reset a permanent immigration process that can take a decade? Or in the case of many Indian companies require that their families put up a bond. If you quit, you could ruin your family financially. That type of motivation? Corporations should not be immigration middle-men. It's not American. Every time we get into these debates over "how to fix the H-1b visa" it is almost always lost upon people that you can't fix something fundamentally immoral and unethical. Reply
May 13, 2013 5:04 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:
Sorry Don, I feel like I'm spamming your blog. I about choked on my drink when I read this line: "One of the other reasons that I would like the H-1B pool to be increased is because that’s the pool that’s pulled from for who’s going to get green cards" That is complete nonsense. Very few H-1b workers are able to get permanent residency. The body shops sponsor them for green cards at single digit percentages. A book was written by and Indian author about the H-1b called "Green Carrot" - alluding to dangling a carrot in front of a mule in the children's story we are familiar with, but in this case a green-card in front of an H-1b worker. This lady is in outer-space. I can't read any more. Reality has left the building. I don't know her personally but I think the problem, generally speaking, is that too many HR types see people as "resources" or "human assets" - not as human beings. Dive deep into their way of thinking and you can begin to understand how slavery happened. All you must do is stop looking at workers as people. If they aren't people too you, it's probably not hard to consider them property - or assets/resources. The H-1b visa is also an outcome of this. Reply
May 13, 2013 6:00 PM Sanych Sanych  says:
First of all, Mrs. Brush preference for foreign labor is a violation of Title VII of civil rights act - employment discrimination based on the country of origin. She states that she prefers foreigners because they are motivated by the needs on the levels lower on Maslow's diagram than those of Americans. Roth Perot's "race to the bottom", here we come! Which brings up the logical question - what's next? Kiss Mrs. Brush's behind in order to get a job? It's about time Americans learn about class hatred. Here is a newly baked Marie-Antoinette - full of herself, arrogant and disgusting. And criminal... Reply
May 13, 2013 7:10 PM BT1024 BT1024  says:
Kathleen seems to have answers for things - you know, "just makes economic sense" - it's so simple why would anyone disagree, "just makes sense", right ?, if you disagree, you must not be able to understand something so simple. In my experience, people that use the "just makes sense" statement in any conversation seem to be the ones that bank on winning over the folks that aren't sure, the one's that haven't done the research to find the truth and are afraid of looking like fools if they don't agree with something that "just makes sense". So, Kathleen has all the answers, except she does not have the answer to the following question that she poses: "For some reason, we have made it more attractive for students to study political science or sociology or other non-STEM fields".... - COULD it be that flooding the STEM fields and the IT Market with visitors on visas (and student visas), thus driving down wages and creating an uncertian job market has caused native born students to pursue other areas of study and job fields. The answer that I provided, just makes sense (doesn't it?). Reply
May 13, 2013 7:16 PM BT1024 BT1024  says:
Don, Did you ask Kathleen what she thinks about the Federal case against infosys? [how about the other companies abusing the B1 visa, the ones that got away with it] By the way, is there still a Federal case over the misuse of the B1 visa and the tax evasion charges ? It seems that the case has disappeared, or did they get away with it.... any news? Reply
May 16, 2013 10:04 AM Pro Pro  says:
here is an example of how Indian company's operate As for as B1 visa investigation, it might end up as another 'too big to jail' or 'too big to charge' rather. What if India-US trade gets shut down if we charge Infosys or Tata for the 100's of guest workers they brought in illegally? Doesn't matter if our municipalities, states and federal government lost massive tax revenue, these companies are 'too big to be charged!" Reply

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