how to best protect american engineering jobs

Interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times about immigration in the software field.  It centered on an engineer that Google had hired who was offered an H1-b visa to come work here.  He’d opted to live and work in Canada because his wife was permitted to work there, but not here.

Recently there’s been some controversy over whether engineers from outside the U.S. should be offered H1-b visas while American engineers are being laid off.  Even before the recession, people were wondering whether we want to encourage foreigners to work here, instead of hiring Americans.

As someone who has interviewed lots of candidates, I’ve observed a number of things.  Fewer Americans have been entering the software field these past ten years.  The numbers support this observation.  Put simply, we are not able to fill available positions with strong American-only candidates.  There just have not been enough good ones to select from.  On many interviewing trips, the majority of my candidates are folks who will require a visa, particularly amongst graduate students.

Illustrating this point, about seven years ago, my team consisted of nine people, eight of whom were from outside the U.S.  They were all fairly top notch engineers, and hailed from all over : South America, South Africa, India, eastern Europe, and also Montana.  Without all of this foreign talent, things would have been a lot tougher for me as a manager.  These folks earn the same amount of money as American engineers.  In fact – it’s more expensive to relocate them here (relo costs as well as legal costs associated with the visas).  It’s more expensive to hire H1-b candidates, but is generally worth it, because they’re top notch engineers.  In essence, you’re getting people who are ‘one in a million’ from these countries – verses a broader range of American candidates – so generally speaking the talent level is stronger.

In making this assertion, I’m drawing from lots of experience interviewing both American citizens from domestic universities as well as international candidates, interviewed overseas.

Folks who contend that the H1-b holders threaten American jobs are completely missing the point.  Bringing the best and brightest into the U.S. to work, pay taxes, and make American companies successful is the best way to protect the most American jobs.  It’s also the best way to promote America as being the best place to come and pursue one’s dreams, much the same way immigrants have done here for a couple of centuries.

Think about the alternative.  If you don’t bring the best and brightest here, you create incentive for companies to open new subsidiaries overseas, and beef up R&D centers in India, China, the Middle East, and other places with strong or emerging university systems.

In addition, it’s definitely healthier for American students to compete with the worldwide talent pool.  It drives their skills and aspirations higher.  It drives excellence in the university programs as well.

My $0.02.


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