More H1-B Visa's, Fewer Problems?

Politicians and high-tech lobbyists may be quibbling over legislative details, but nearly everyone agrees that this country is in desperate need of more foreign-born IS workers.

The current federal allowance of 115,000 H1-B visas, the high-tech industry claims, barely puts a dent in the IT labor shortage. Largely as a result of efforts by lobbyists like Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), Congress is considering two rival H1-B visa bills: one to raise the cap to 200,000 and the other to remove the cap altogether.

"With over 850,000 IT jobs expected to go unfilled this year, Congress must act quickly to raise the number of available H1-B visas," argues Miller.

"Increasing the availability of highly skilled [foreign-born] workers to American technology companies is one of the most positive steps the United States can take this year toward continuing the robust growth of the new economy." Shelley Morrisette, senior vice president and director of research at Darwin Partners, an IT workforce solutions company, couldn't disagree more. "Changing immigration policy will not work," argues Morrisette. "Technology is constantly changing and accelerating, creating obsolete IS workers daily. The real issue facing the high-tech industry is how to effectively and continually retrain and use obsolete workers." According to Morrisette, the whole staffing crisis--and the notion that throwing more visas at the problem will solve it--is a red herring launched by the high-tech industry to put downward pressure on IT salaries. More bodies may increase the pool of candidates, and many of those bodies may come cheap, says Morrisette, but CIOs who chase down H1-B visa workers are wasting their time.

Their energies would be better spent retooling their human resource strategies for the new economy. An obsolete worker is an obsolete worker, and 10 are no better than one.

Regardless of the number of H1-B visas available, says Morrisette, companies that implement effective retraining programs, pay a premium for highly skilled talent and ignore the doomsday laments of staffing crisis propagandists will successfully manage their own staffing situation. Companies that expect a larger and cheaper labor pool to solve their staffing woes for them will be the first to go.

Will more H1-B visas solve your staffing problems? Here's a sampling of the comments and concerns that Senior Web Editor Martha Heller received. You can respond to her by e-mail at mheller@cio.com or respond to this and other topics on CIO.com via comment.cio.com.

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