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Further compounding the IT talent shortage is what some are calling a crisis in the U.S. visa program for foreign workers. Visa categories such as the controversial H-1B, which was established to help American companies bring in foreign workers to handle jobs that couldn't be filled with U.S. workers, are increasingly being snatched up by foreign companies.
In 2007, according to a BusinessWeek analysis, eight of the top 10 recipients of H-1B visas were companies that either are based in India--Infosys Technologies, Wipro, Satyam Computer Services, Tata Consultancy Services, Patni Computer Systems and i-Flex Solutions--or have Indian nationals as top leaders--Cognizant Tech Solutions and UST Global. Rounding out the top 10: Microsoft and Intel.
As a result, U.S. companies shut out of the H-1B program find themselves applying for other visa types intended to fill other needs. That's led Bob Meltzer, CEO of VisaNow, which helps companies and individuals apply for various types of visas, to suggest an overhaul of the visa system. The desperation he sees among U.S. IT employers trying to fill IT positions is all the proof he needs that something must be done.
"The clients who come to us to hire foreign nationals are not hiring them just because it's a better option," Meltzer says. "It's the only option."
Adding insult to injury, the very Indian outsourcers that have been snatching up visas also have benefited from the U.S. talent drought, with demand for their services growing as clients struggle to find long-term employees.
If business and IT leaders need additional motivation to find solutions to the IT talent shortage, they should consider the impact on innovation. While there's little evidence linking IT staffing challenges with a decline in innovation, some question whether it's possible, for instance, to expect much innovation from offshore outsourcers handling aspects of a company's IT.
EquaTerra's Lepeak suggests that the use of outsourcers, or even coordinating IT staff around the globe, could negatively affect the pace of innovation. "It's pretty disruptive moving work all over the world," he says.
In the long run, Lepeak anticipates that when the IT talent pool inevitably recovers and IT is given an expanding set of responsibilities, innovation may spike. In the meantime, however, the IT talent shortage is, at best, slowing innovation simply by slowing the pace of work.