Activist Rails Against ‘Myth’ that U.S. IT Skills Are Inferior

On the heels of a busy season for H-1B-related activity—a record-breaking depletion of the temporary worker visas, two related pieces of Senate legislation and a published list of the companies that are taking the most advantage of the program—a technology activist on May 23 set out to pan “the myth that Americans can’t cut it in technology.”

“The myth that H-1B technology workers are smarter and more qualified than their domestic counterparts is given its most definitive exposure in a study unveiled today at the National Press Club,” said Donna Conroy, director of, a white-collar lobbying organization, and a former tech pro. Conroy has been lobbying against expanding the H-1B visa hiring program for several years.

The report, ”Low Salaries for Low Skills: Wages and Skill Levels for H-1B Computer Workers, 2005,” was released by John Miano and the Center for Immigration Studies May 22 and set out to correct what the center saw as misconceptions about the U.S. high-tech visa program.

The report showed that 87 percent of the job openings that were filled under this program were for entry-level positions that require only a “good understanding of the occupation.” It also argued that applicants whom employers defined as possessing entry-level skills filled 56 percent of the 2005 H-1B job openings.

“Technology firms are propagating the myth that citizens from abroad are ‘the best and the brightest’ in science and technology, encouraging Americans to conclude that the U.S. work force is incompetent and incapable,” said Conroy. “This is self-loathing talk at its worst! It hides that fact that these same employers can legally bypass the U.S. work force for these job openings.”

It’s been a busy few months in foreign worker-related news. On April 4, the entire 65,000-strong supply of H-1B visas for the 2008 fiscal year were exhausted on the first day they were available.

Two days later, a bill was introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that would put the onus on employers to prove that they had gone to lengths to ensure that an H-1B visa holder would not be displacing a prospective U.S. worker.

Click here to read more about how the bill gives U.S. workers first dibs on H-1B jobs.

On May 13, Grassley and Durbin sent letters to nine Indian firms, which were issued nearly 20,000 of the 65,000 2006 visas, requesting details on the way they use their H-1B visas.

On May 14, two more senators, Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., introduced The Skilled Worker Immigration and Fairness Act of 2007, which would raise the current annual ceiling on H-1B visas to 115,000, with provisions to adjust the annual cap to as high as 180,000 based on market conditions.

On May 16, InformationWeek magazine obtained a government list of the top 200 companies receiving foreign worker visas, revealing that five of the top 10 were Indian outsourcers—including Infosys, Wipro, Tata, Satyam and Patni. Microsoft was No. 3 on the list, IBM was No. 8, Oracle USA was No. 9 and the New York City Public School System ranked a surprising twenty-second.

“Twenty years ago, when there was a labor shortage in the technology industry, technology firms routinely hired unqualified Americans and trained the hell out of them. Music and sociology majors were transformed into top-notch programmers. Now the only people who benefit from extensive training are H-1Bs,” said Conroy.

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