Opportunities Grow to Insulate IT Career Path from H-1B Abuse

Don Tennant
Slide Show

Top 15 Tech Certifications in Today's Market

As abuse of the H-1B visa program continues to take its toll on U.S. IT workers, it appears likely that it will be some time before government action to halt that abuse will have a demonstrable impact on the IT employment landscape in this country. So it's important for U.S. IT workers to consider ways to insulate their career paths from that abuse in the meantime.


I spoke last week with Evan Lesser, managing director of ClearanceJobs.com, a unit of IT employment services provider Dice.com that focuses on jobs that require a security clearance. I've written in the past that getting a security clearance is a great career move for any number of reasons, including the fact that it eliminates a large pool of contenders, including workers here on H-1B visas, from the competition. Lesser said he agreed with that 100 percent:

The primary requirement to have a security clearance is that you must be a U.S. citizen, so the H-1B candidates who are coming from overseas cannot receive a security clearance, flat-out. It doesn't matter how good their skills are, they can't get one. You will find some of them working within government and for government contractors. But it won't be for anything that requires a security clearance.

What's especially encouraging is that IT job openings that require a security clearance are growing significantly, because the U.S. government is rapidly expanding its cyber warfare capabilities. According to Lesser:

What we're seeing more and more of, in the past six months or so, is that the government is looking to the contracting base to find candidates who are appropriately skilled with more offensive roles with regard to network security. Most of the opportunity now revolves around defensive positions-prohibiting attacks, noting when an intrusion happens, and what can be done to defend against it.

The growing opportunity, Lesser said, is in offensive positions that require a certification in ethical hacking:

We're seeing a lot more of these positions where the candidate has to have certified skills in ethical hacking and malware reverse-engineering. Those are really leaning more towards the offensive side of things. When you consider that in the context of the Stuxnet virus from last year that was apparently intentionally perpetrated as an attack on Iran and possibly a few others, it kind of puts everything into perspective a bit. So the government is definitely looking more for people with a Certified Ethical Hacker certification. Those positions are getting more and more in demand. The certifications that follow around defensive positions have been the most prevalent to date, but the government is now looking at building essentially a workforce of cyber warriors-people who are not just defending, but they're actually attacking.

A crucial first step in taking a career path that involves obtaining a security clearance is to get an IT certification. Department of Defense Directive 8570 stipulates that all government employees and contractors with privileged access to U.S. government computer networks must be certified. ClearanceJobs.com has compiled a list of the top 10 certifications most frequently held by technology professionals with a security clearance:


  • Security+
  • A+
  • Network+
  • Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP)
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA)

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 5, 2011 1:15 AM Bob Bob  says:

While I really can't disagree with anything in this article (and thank you for noting that citizens suffer from H-1b abuse and need solutions), I will say that it only protects you from the primary affects of H-1b abuse, you still suffer from the secondary effects of a dilluted IT market (IE, more citizen IT workers clinging to the security clearence lifeboats).

This issue demonstrates why H-1b abuse affects all citizen workers, whether they work on IT or not, because people who either leave IT in frustration, or are kicked out of IT or avoid IT altogether in the first place, end up dilluting job markets of whatever else they end up doing.

H-1b is and has never been, anything but a labor model - and there is a significant risk it will spread to all of white collar.

(no criticism of your article here Don, it is a constructive article)

Apr 5, 2011 1:16 AM hoapres hoapres  says: in response to R. Lawson

>> The whole thing is catch-22.


>> I would suggest reforming the program.

Not going to happen

Apr 5, 2011 1:37 AM Dave Chapman Dave Chapman  says:

I stopped going to the ClearanceJobs.com job fairs in Santa Clara

several years ago.  The reason I stopped going is the fact that there

always seems to be a huge line of people who are obviously not

US citizens.  This transforms the whole thing into a big waste of time. 

I mean, why do I have to wait 45-60 minutes behind a bunch of

people who hand their resume to the recruiters and then get told

something like "We are not currently hiring people who are not

US citizens, but I will put your resume on file."  Yeah, right.

What ClearanceJobs.com needs to do, at least in Silicon Valley, is

to have job fairs such that you can't even get in the door unless you

are a US citizen or have a Green Card. 

The current situation is a big waste of everybody's time. 

Apr 5, 2011 2:11 AM hoapres hoapres  says: in response to Dave Chapman

Silicon Valley job fairs are a complete waste of time.  Few employers use job fairs anymore as with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of unemployed IT people looking for work then if you have a job to fill you certainly won't need to use a job fair to fill it.

Apr 5, 2011 9:15 AM Dolores Dolores  says: in response to hoapres

One of my sons has a fairly high security clearance. They were willing to take him on and pay him during the process. Why? He'd just gotten out after being in two wars, with computer experience before and during the wars, and some college. Most of us will not have that on our resumes nor could most of us get it no matter how much we wanted to. Every now and then my son's company's project budgets run low and they all worry. Just not that many of these kinds of jobs - feast or famine there too. Sorry.

Apr 5, 2011 10:58 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:

As a consultant, I would like to get a security clearance - however the problem is that the process to acquire one is so tedious that most contractors hire people who already have a clearance.  I am not able to apply for a security clearance myself - because they are only given when there is a need.

The whole thing is catch-22.

I would suggest reforming the program.  Essentially, allow the individual to self-apply for "pre-approval" and make activating a security clearance once there is a need (a project requiring one) very quick, simple, and affordable for the contractor.

In my ideal world, jobs should only require "pre-approval" instead of an active clearance.

Apr 6, 2011 2:37 AM Gabe Gabe  says:

I can't speak to what it's like getting a security clearance when you're NOT straight out of college, but I can't say my experience was particularly painful. I submitted my resume about six months after I graduated, got my interview, and got hired well before I ever passed any security check. I had to wait a month or so until my preliminary background investigation went through, but I could start working straight away, and the clearance went through only around two months later. All said and done, a pretty painless process. And yeah, it completely circumvents the whole "Crap, will H1-Bs take my job?" question rather handily.

A decent employer looks at personality first, skills and qualifications second, and other crap third. Whether you have a security clearance or not isn't as much of a factor as you'd think, from what I've experienced and learned from conversations with officemates and my bosses. Granted, I may just be incredibly fortunate to have found a one-of-a-kind place to work, but I doubt it. I hear similar stories from the other companies my team works with all the time.

Obviously, every situation is different. Every person has a different set of qualifications; different strengths and weaknesses; different restrictions regarding what he or she can and can't apply to; or different personality traits that may or may not mesh well with a prospective employer. I worked my ass off, got a second degree, was willing to move (though I ended up not having to move very far), and still ended up getting a job that wasn't exactly in my original field of study. But you know what? I have pretty darned solid job security, and that can trump all when you've got a family to worry about.

Apr 6, 2011 3:16 AM hoapres hoapres  says: in response to Gabe

>> Whether you have a security clearance or not isn't as much of a factor as you'd think, from what I've experienced and learned from conversations with officemates and my bosses. <<

Yes it is.

You were hired straight out of college being within a year of graduation.  Most defense jobs require that you have an active clearance.  Simply check the job ads which often explicitly require the level of clearance. 

I doubt that you got a very high level clearance.  You might get a secret in under a year but I doubt that a Top Secret comes through in a couple of months.

Apr 6, 2011 3:35 AM Gabe Gabe  says: in response to hoapres

Of course it was only a Secret-level clearance. That doesn't stop it from being a pretty darned effective piece of job security.

Also, I freely admitted that I was hired out of college, and so could not "speak to what it's like getting a security clearance when you're NOT straight out of college." I'm simply providing a viewpoint from someone who's on the ground, just like you are.

That said, I met the new employees who came to their first day of work at my company at the same time I did. Only one of the ~20 people who started that day held a clearance beforehand, and I was, by FAR, the youngest one there -- NO ONE else there was fresh out of college, unless they'd gone back to school in their later years (a virtuous endeavor in its own right, to be sure).

Again, this might all be the exception that proves the rule. And I was jobless for nine months, so I know the pain of not being able to work, if less acutely than some who've been out of the workforce for longer. But I get the feeling you either haven't dug as deeply for a job as you could have, hoapres, or else there's something lacking in your qualifications. Hell, if being fresh out of college is the only way to get an IT job, maybe some might consider going back to school for that second degree.

Apr 6, 2011 5:53 AM hoapres hoapres  says: in response to Gabe

>> Of course it was only a Secret-level clearance.


>> That doesn't stop it from being a pretty darned effective piece of job security.

Tell that to all those who got laid off in the "peace dividend" of the late 1980s who were never able to find another defense job.

>> Only one of the ~20 people who started that day held a clearance beforehand...

You don't know that.

No way is someone with security experience is going to disclose his clearance status (Secret or Top Secret) to someone that he just met on the job with the exception of the security department.  Sure, I am going to tell someone I never met before who asks the Question : "Do you have a security clearance?"

I agree that having a clearance certainly helps but you are pretty naive to put it mildly when you claim that "....darned effective..."

If we get another "peace dividend" then LOTS of defense workers are going to be pounding the pavement for another job.

>> Again, this might all be the exception that proves the rule.

It is.

>> ..I get the feeling...


You're feeling would be wrong.

>> ...If being fresh out of college...

Maybe I have a LOT more experience than you being straight out of college.  You pretty much have to get your clearances straight out of college to enter the defense world.  Once you are out for a couple of years then you pretty much are excluded from defense work unless you have a current clearance.  You just don't have a very large sample size.  Go around and ask at the big defense firms such as Lockheed Martin and try getting a defense job with years of experience without a current clearance.

Apr 7, 2011 1:44 AM hoapres hoapres  says: in response to Gabe

>> Security officer said...

I can't argue with that but I admit my surprise that she would say that.  Her boss might not be too happy with that fact going around the office.

>> THAT was my point.

Obviously having a security clearance is better than not having one.  Don's way off base if he believes that you can insulate your IT career from H1B infestation solely on defense work.  Also we are talking thousands and NOT hundreds of thousands of jobs that are needed in IT. 

Those who lived through the big peace dividend of the late 1980s can give you horror stories of people whose career was effectively destroyed as the private sector refused to hire laid off defense workers.  Defense work is not as secure as one is led to believe.

Apr 7, 2011 8:24 AM Gabe Gabe  says: in response to hoapres

Yeah, I regretted the last paragraph of my previous post as soon as I hit "Add Comment." It was pretty mean, and I apologize for it.

Regarding the rest of your responses:

"No way is someone with security experience is going to disclose his clearance status (Secret or Top Secret) to someone that he just met on the job with the exception of the security department.  Sure, I am going to tell someone I never met before who asks the Question : "Do you have a security clearance?""

I didn't ask the question. The security officer in the room simply said, "Only one of you has had a security clearance in the past, so it looks like most of you are in the same boat." I doubt she was lying. You can also tell pretty easily who's waiting on a clearance and who isn't in my office by the identification they wear -- a rather critical security measure. You may not be able to tell what LEVEL of clearance someone has, but you sure as hell can tell whether someone has clearance at all.

Finally, regarding security clearances being "darned effective" at helping someone's job security, I was referring to it in terms of Don's original post: H1-B visas. Let's not pull the conversation off-track simply because we like to argue. Regardless of how much job security folks in my position may or may not have, none of us are worried about non-citizens undercutting us and taking our jobs. THAT was my point.


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