The Legacy of H1-B Allotment Increases

The ‘experts’ finally agree that we’re in a recession here in the United States. Well congratulations. Someone certainly ought to win the Nobel Prize in Economics for that belated revelation. The judging shouldn’t be counted off for the fact that it took a tragedy of horrific proportions to get these ‘experts’ to actually read the data that had been in front of them for months. As Harry Truman once said, there are three levels of lying – lies, damn lies, and statistics. Everyone certainly spun the statistics to new levels of abomination until September 11 finally made them face facts.

Unfortunately, nobody bothered to ask us folks in the computer consulting industry. We could have given them a ‘heads up’ years ago. Of course, we were at a bit of a disadvantage compared to other industries. In the true oxymoronic spirit of ‘I’m from the government, I’m here to help you’, our congress in its infinite wisdom approved yet another increase in H1-B visas after the Y2K non-event. Just as thousands of technical professionals were coming available to work for the first time in years, companies looking for cheap labor manufactured a ‘shortage’ of IT talent and successfully presented it to congress.

As a result, the consulting and contract arms of the industry have been in the tank since the fourth quarter of 1999. During 2000, the availability of so many inexpensive (and many unqualified) H1-B’s forced many qualified independent contractors out of the business. It is a sad fact that US business to this day prefers to pay $45/hour to someone that knows nothing rather than pay $100/hour to someone that is four times as productive. Even those consultants that knew to save for ‘dry spells’ found their resources taxed beyond their plans, and many more were new to the business had nothing saved ‘ thinking it to be like the stock market that just kept going up. After all, there was a shortage of IT talent, wasn’t there?

Our industry experts, myself included, never anticipated the post-Y2K downturn in the consulting business. After all, weren’t there years of backlog out there that hadn’t been done due to the focus on Y2K’ Who knew that everyone but those in high growth industries had spent all of their money’ The bad thing is that Y2K would not have been such a resource drain if not for the litigious nature of our society ‘ companies spent money they shouldn’t have because they were afraid of getting sued. I knew enough to know that we wouldn’t need the visa increase, but perhaps congress shouldn’t be blamed after all. Computers are mysterious things to most people, hence the popularity of Dell’s ‘Steven’ character.

Not that all of this is bad. There were several people that got back into consulting as a result of Y2K that shouldn’t have been in it in the first place. Many people here under H1-B are inimitably qualified, and will find new sponsors even as their original sponsors fold. The other side of the coin is that some native charlatans will remain employed, while some qualified immigrants won’t have the contacts necessary to remain so. Separating the wheat from the chaff is never an easy, or clean, process.

Ironically, the increase in visas may eventually create the shortage that it was intended to address. Thousands of H1-B recipients are being forced to return home after losing their sponsorships this year ‘ one of the reasons I always warn foreign nationals to be careful what they’re getting into when they move here on a temporary basis. Since the cheap labor already caused thousands to leave the consulting and contracting industries, there may not be enough supply to meet the demand. I’ve received more solid leads in the last 30 days than I have in the past 24 months. And it’s the slow season’


Dean Asmussen