On Monday, July 26, a column I wrote on eWEEK about the diminishing number of applications for H-1B visas appeared, and was immediately followed by a string of comments that expressed a shocking level of racism, hate, bigotry and pure mean-spiritedness. I had everything from threats of violence against foreign workers using H-1B visas to insults. The experience was so unpleasant, and the comments in some cases so libelous, that I asked the editors to pull the entire comments section, and to disable the ability to leave comments.
My point was that the number of applicants has declined steadily over the years, partly due to the lousy job market in the U.S., and partly due to bureaucratic bungling. It's clearly a waste of federal money when one part of the Executive Branch-the Department of State-approves a visitor, and another part of the same branch, the Department of Homeland Security, refuses to let the people leave the airport, and sends them home. Regardless of the rationale, it makes the government appear as if it's being run by idiots.
Another reason that the numbers are declining is that the process is difficult, which is probably not a bad thing. An applicant has to prove that they have a job, that it's at a level considered eligible for the program, and that the pay is at a level so that people with H-1B visas aren't simply a source of cheap labor. This may take evidence provided by the prospective employer and a series of interviews at a U.S. Consulate in the person's home country. The process may be difficult and sometimes expensive, but one way or the other, there needs to be a process.
But after seeing the response to people wishing to enter on such temporary visas, I now know there is another reason. Why would anyone want to enter the U.S., knowing that they would be subjected to a nearly constant stream of racism, hate and threats?
I'm sure there are many who don't see this as a problem. After all, if we keep these people out of the U.S., aren't we preserving American jobs? But in reality, the point of the H-1B visa is to invite the best workers from other places to work in American companies and contribute their talents, their skills and their time to make our companies better. The companies that proactively hire such people, many of which are in the technology sector, benefit from having these people on hand, and if they benefit, so does the rest of the economy.
But in the case of tech companies, at least the ones that I interact with, foreign workers are not here as cheap labor. They're here to bring their talents and their viewpoints to U.S .companies. In many cases, these same people go home after a time to work in the local offices of these same companies. In effect, we're growing the economic benefit of these people two ways. First, by gaining their skills, and second by making use of the training they received here when they go back home, and contribute to the bottom line of the company through their local offices in the person's home country.
But It would seem that it's become acceptable to some people to openly espouse racism as long as it's directed at someone who's not from here. You have to wonder what they're thinking, but are afraid to say. Do they also direct that same hate at everyone else who doesn't look like them?
The technology industry and IT needs anyone it can find who can make things work better, regardless of where they're from or what they look like. One would hope that the IT business was made up of people smart enough to have moved on. But unfortunately, some in this business are just as bigoted as everybody else. And that's bad for IT, for business and for the rest of us.