Knee-Jerk Foreigner-Bashing Gives IT a Black Eye

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When I raised the issue in an earlier post of unemployed IT workers being compelled to perform what I called "slave labor" as part of the job application process, I was fairly certain that readers would begin to come forward with their own tales of having to provide free consulting services for prospective employers to demonstrate their expertise. I was also fairly certain that the discussion would degenerate into a forum for mindless foreigner-bashing. I'd make a big deal about being right on both counts, but the first was unsurprising, and the second was a gimme.


The post was worthwhile, because it sparked an enlightening discussion of overbearing employer interviewing practices. Readers posted comments that were informative and on point not only here, but on SFGate.com. Tom Abate of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about my post in his "Get to Work" blog, and asked his readers about the practice of squeezing operational improvement plans out of job applicants: "So is it widespread? Unfair? Unethical? Or just the new normal for jobseekers?"


Abate received quite a few responses from readers who made meaningful contributions to the discussion. Some, like this one, provided reasoned advice:


"I have been in this position before. I would generally suggest that the company hire me to do some analysis on a trial basis at a set rate, and then hire for the full job or full time if that works out. They get to use my expertise, I get paid, we get to see how we work together... it's all fair. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But I'll be damned if I'm going to spend hours of my time doing something for free that I should be paid for. My time is worth money, and if I give it away, it's not going to be valued, is it."


But the reasonable comments on Abate's blog were largely lost in what became a communal rant against foreign workers in general, and H-1B visa holders in particular. Apparently, the idea is that if Americans are being subjected to unfair job application demands, it must be because the practice is enabled by a job market that's being strangled by foreign workers. A sampling of the comments will give you the gist:


"End the H-1B program immediately and send those who are here and not critical packing. The companies of those who remain should be subject to a tax equivalent to 100% of the salaries and benefits. That will make up for the huge amount of money leaving the U.S. Yeah, I'm bitter. My income has halved in the last 10 years, and my only crime was not being a 25-year-old Indian or Chinese."


"Half the workers at [Amazon's Seattle] headquarters are from India. Microsoft is crawling with non-U.S. workers. Those stupid Americans, expecting to be hired by American companies located in American cities."


"The friggin Federal Government is run by idiots and/or criminals. Our immigration laws are designed to completely destroy the American Middle Class. Pure and simple."


"For you H-1B workers out there, go home. Get out. You aren't wanted, except by your money-grubbing employers."


"What a country India is!!!! You have a high-tech U.S. company with a top-notch physical facility hiring local employees at fast food wages, and yet next door is a toxic waste dump and residential hovel with living quarters in cardboard and sheet metal."


Now, bear in mind that all of this venom was spewed in response to a blog post about the practice of employers demanding operational improvement plans from job applicants. It's illustrative of a disturbing myopia I've observed over the years-one that only gets more distorted as the recession drags on. The knee-jerk compulsion of marginalized IT workers to blame people from other countries for the difficulty du jour is getting distasteful, and a little embarrassing.


In the end, it's also hopelessly self-defeating. Legitimate concerns about real problems, like the inexcusably poor administration of the H-1B visa program, are getting lost in a din of snide anti-foreigner rhetoric. Nothing is advanced but the perception of our ignorance and our inability to compete.