Losing the Best and Brightest?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow with the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and executive in residence and adjunct professor at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, talks about why limiting access to H1B visas is a perilous policy that will force out the best and brightest.


Vivek Wadhwa

Comments [54]

KZ Horvendile from Westchester

Please check out the following


I agree with some of the comments that we should hear some of the other sides of the story - about how US born tech workers are losing their jobs to h1b visas.

Vivek Wadhwa mentions during the discussion that COBOL & C programmers are outdated. To use the example of Cobol and C programmers is a joke and is a blatant dissabmling by Vivek - hes talking about old technology of course. That example shows Vivek is catering and slanting things to foist his ideas on the uniformed But American-born/greencard holder workers are losing their jobs with **up-to-date** skills.

I worked for a major wall street firm and the reason we lost our jobs is so the Satayams of the world and their ilk can come in and fill the job with overworked cheaper labor so the directors of IT can keep their inflated bonuses.

One last thing - its not the fault of the H1B workers themselves - the workers are usually well skilled in at least one technology but its the whole infrastructure and hypocrisy by the hiring firms/Satayam's and the US corps. catering to this egregious broken process and their own greedy interests

May. 03 2009 12:36 PM
Boris from New Jersey

Derek - you hit the nail on the head:

" Despite what I think are very competitive compensation packages".

You think it is a competitive package. Obviously, market thinks otherwise. Most people have family and life outside of work and don't want work in a sweat shop or to travel 50 weeks a year. You do manage to get some ex-military because it has been reported that these people often cannot enter civilian workforce, so they are willing to put up with your B/S.

The bottom line - instead of paying the competitive rate, your company via H-1B program is selling access to this country and the US citizenship to foreigners. This is the supplement that does not belong to you and that you CANNOT pay to American workers.

May. 01 2009 05:52 PM
Derek from New Jersey

I've been a consulting manager at two of the world's largest software companies and in that capacity I've hired dozens of consultants over the past 10 years and interviewed probably two to three hundred. Our annual base salaries range from $90,000 to $140,000 with 20% bonuses additional, along with top-notch insurance and other benefits, mostly company-paid. Of all the consultants I've interviewed, more than 80% were on H1B visas and 95% were foreign-born (99% of them from India or China) with the delta being naturalized US citizens. Put another way, only 5% of all candidates I felt were qualified on paper and subsequently interviewed were US-born citizens. Why? Despite what I think are very competitive compensation packages very few US-born citizens have the drive, desire, willingness, or the career guidance and focus to both master the many technical skills required for the position and put up with the demands of up to 50 weeks of travel to all parts of the US with the pressure of a new customer and engagement every few weeks. About the only US-born citizens whose resumes ever crossed my desk were ex-military or former civilian contractors for the military. Most of the H1Bs I hired applied for US citizenship. Many are still waiting but none that I know of were turned down. Bottom line? Immigrants represent the best and the brightest, from a capitalist/free-enterprise, willing-to-work-hard perspective, of their native lands and keeping them out will compromise our nation's ability to compete, thrive, and raise our standard of living in the coming century.

May. 01 2009 04:05 PM
Boris from New Jersey

To Al from Manhattan:

From the "Muppets Movie" when Muppets meet Gonzo (traveling with a chicken):

Muppets: "Where are you going?"

Gonzo: "I am going to Bombay India to become a movie star?"

Muppets: "Come with us. We are going to Hollywood California to become movie stars."

Gonzo: "Ahhh! You wanna do it the easy way!"


So, my answer to your question - I am going to train to become a radio talk show host - like Brian Lehrer. After all, he IS irreplaceable.

May. 01 2009 02:52 PM
Lonnie from Brooklyn!!!!!

Wow. . .Brian, please listen to these people.

One problem here is that the displaced IT workers have no single voice or Spokesperson with access to Power, whereas the H1-B proponents are Corporate Players AND University & Higher Education interests. The H1-B program is a Tuition Revenue source for the Higher Education Industry-- so it really isn't even fair to call in one of your cozy Columbia or NY University Professors to comment on Vivek because they will most likely play the same pro-H1-B song. They have to-- the Tuition Revenue from these 'Student Visas' is the butter on the University's bread. And these student's fill the Professor's courses and keeps said professor employed.

Many of my Tech friends work in dept's that are close to 95% Indian. Once one H1-B indian becomes a Boss-- there's a Native-Born American Wipe-out within a month below him. And like another poster said-- He will ONLY interview and hire ANOTHER H1-B. My brother has sat in on interviews where the American candidate is subjected to painstaking, crypto-detailed problem solving interviews, while the Indian H1-B candidate is smiling through a friendly conversation. . .in URDU.
the H1-B Visa program is a Job Takeover Program. It wasn't originally intended that way-- but current economic conditions created a perfect storm.
And again-- the problem for this educated class of Americans is that they have NO VOICE in the debate. The people CLAIMING to be a Voice in our interests are the Education industry and people like Vivek who really create H1-B Consulting/Head hunting firms that DO exploit the corporate system's desire for low wages and the H1-B Visa holder's NEED to get that job-- at ANY WAGE.

May. 01 2009 01:59 PM
Al from Manhattan

Yes Boris, plumbers.

Accounting and financial analysis are being outsourced to India almost as fast as IT. We have already discussed science and engineering. They are importing nurses as fast as they possibly can. Journalists are doing real well these days. However, the teaching, legal, and medical professions are protected by professional organizations and/or unions, as are the building trades.

So where would you place your education investment Boris?

May. 01 2009 01:53 PM

The caller made a comment about discouraging his kids to go into engineering due to outsourcing and importation of cheap non-immigrant labor. Also, there are some comments on this board regarding this.

Question - why limit it to engineering and computer science? The non-immigrant visa is open to ANY profession.

Financial Analysis
Nursing and Medical
.... and so on.

Thus, it looks like any investment in education is a bad one. Should we become a nation of plumbers? I am afraid that even this is not a safe choice.

May. 01 2009 12:29 PM
Al from Manhattan

I am actively discouraging young people from majoring in engineering. I know from experience that they will not be able to find a good job. They will have to compete with cheap foreign labor.

Major in engineering if you want to have roommates when you're thirty five.

May. 01 2009 12:14 PM

A story about American brain drain - check out the piece about Douglas Prasher - a scientist whose work led to others winning a Nobel Prize - driving a courtesy shuttle for Toyota dealership.

May. 01 2009 12:04 PM
Tim from Westchester

Robert from Long Island used the words referred to the IEEE as "my society" where you could find many people who agree with him.
That may or may not be true, but IEEE is a professional organization with "more than 375,000 members including nearly 80,000 student members in more than 160 countries " according to his website, and to my knowledge Robert is in no way authorized to speak for it.
Also, the concern Mr. Wadhwa has that the new rules affecting TARP funding is somewhat of a tempest in a teapot. Most large companies routinely do a search for qualified American applicants before hiring an H1B visa applicant specifically to avoid being sued by disgruntled xenophobes.

May. 01 2009 11:46 AM
Boris from NJ

Personal story - I am unemployed computer programmer with all the current skills - Java, JavaScript, Web, you name it... Sorry, no Cobol.

Getting calls from primaraly Indian headhunters with jobs that precisely fit my skills. After they get my resume, they disappear. If you watch the video I posted earlier, you will learn what they do - create a paper trail of TRYING to find a qualified American worker, and then hiring a cheaper foreigner.

May. 01 2009 11:41 AM
Tony from Downtown Brooklyn

Banking and technology are the very definition of borderless industries. There's a worldwide pool of talent, and up until now, US companies could lure the best and brightest. Not allowing foreign nationals here doesn't make Americans better and brighter. It forces foreign nationals to create competition for America's banks and Googles and Apples abroad much the way they created competition to Philco and GM abroad.
American workers must let go of their sense of entitlement. Closing your borders to competitive products and workers stagnates your economy. A stagnant economy can't support free education for people to study math and sciences. A stagnant economy can't support a recovery from the Bush era mismanagement. A stagnant economy can't fund the next Microsoft or electric car.
Closing borders only speeds the decline of the empire.

May. 01 2009 11:39 AM
JT from NYC

#20 It is kind of sad that the guest and others keep asserting that America losing talented foreigners but it seems they totally missing the opportunities that these same people could create in their home countries.

Maybe if some of them went back to their home countries with the drive and education they received in America, there would eventually be little need for their countrymen to run to the West for a better life. I think the foreign guest are actually being short sighted.

May. 01 2009 11:38 AM
Bill from Dix Hills, NY

The guest made a comment regarding why companies get rid of 45 year old programmers and hire 25 year olds-his point was the 45 year old is not up to speed with the latest technologies (facebook, etc) and are willing to and are able to work harder than the 45 year old, for less money.

This is what it comes down to-a perception by the guest that all these statements are true. Based on his statements the caller from Valley Stream is right, but for a reason he did not state-the guest will get rid of his workers when they hit their mid-40s and replace them with younger workers since he sees them as more efficient and more adept with the latest technology. By the way, all of these reasons are canards.

May. 01 2009 11:37 AM
Boris from NJ

Merrill: there are all kinds of tricks that companies' lawyers can use to place H-1B's in different categories. It is documented how the same Wadwha underpayed his workers.

Norm Matloff - a professor from California - writes a lot about this issue.

Also Programmers' Guild documents many of these abuses

May. 01 2009 11:37 AM
Al from Manhattan

Companies know how to game the system. American engineers have left the field because they can't afford to live on an H-1B salary. I know American born engineers who drive trucks for a living. I know people who have forbidden their children from majoring in engineering.

Go home Vivek!

May. 01 2009 11:33 AM
NKM from brooklyn

Vivek is a great, well spoken, guest.

More people like him!

May. 01 2009 11:31 AM
Ian from Brooklyn

I have been in the IT field for 15 years and have seen the H1B visa program and its effects for many years. There was a caller to this program referring to employers low-balling existing employees in order to replace them with H1B employees and this caller was not incorrect but did not address the entire issue. Being as the IT field is populated almost entirely by at-will employees there are little to no protections for those employees and employers use this as a means to keep costs down. There is almost no attention to employee growth and education opportunities are a slander regarding problem situations. The only way to retain a job in this field is through constant personal effort to learn and advance with the only reward being continued employment with almost no wage increase.

May. 01 2009 11:31 AM
Jim from NYC

Merrill (post 21) states that H1-B's must be paid prevailing wages. That is in fact the law, but in fact almost never happens! There is virtually no enforcement, and all sorts of tricks that the companies use to push down the rates.

In my experience, the quality of the software designed matches the lower rates. The companies who do this will get what they pay for - just watch banking computer systems start to fall apart in the next couple years.

May. 01 2009 11:31 AM
Boris from NJ

Why is Brian saying "native born Americans"? This is precisely the language coming from pro-outsourcing lobby.

This issue is how people who are here legally - citizens and non-citizens - are displaced by non-immigrant cheap labor.

I guess, Indians are the only ones working and them and special interests can afford to make donations to WNYC...


May. 01 2009 11:31 AM
Robert from New York

You should address ageism -- I'm an IT professional over 40. I can learn the newest technologies in a heartbeat -- it may be that younger programmers just out of college are cheaper, hungrier, but in my experience most of them have not much more beyond that -- and you can ALWAYS outsource raw programming capabilities. What makes America great is the synergies of many different areas -- and that is experienced and older workers have the upper hand.

May. 01 2009 11:30 AM
sue from Brooklyn

Stop having so many fans of H1B immigrants as phone guests. The comments are running 10 to 1 against! We have lost our jobs!!

May. 01 2009 11:26 AM
Santiago from New York


I just want to add some points to the discussion:

1. H1B Visa holders are spending and consuming in the Untied States, if an H1B visa holder agrees to a lower salary is because this person believes he/she can afford living in the United States.

2. Many of the people applying for H1B made investments in US educational institutions (College, Post-graduate Studies and even high school, I believe this people should be measured at the same level as with US citizens.

May. 01 2009 11:26 AM
Cat from NJ

I am totally confused by these comments. I am an employer who has undergone the H1 process for a number instances.

As part of the process we must meet a fair wage qualification and we must prove that our recruitment process was fair to all applicants citizens or not.

Honestly- For YEARS it has been so hard to get H1B's that I cringe whenever it comes up... The idea that employers are "getting over" by employee H1 candidates is totally baseless.

May. 01 2009 11:26 AM
Rachelle Arkin from United States

One of the callers just mentioned that firms would rather hire an entry level candidate rather than a more experienced employee. As a head hunter I can tell you that ageism is the "ism" that no one talks about but is RAMPANT.

May. 01 2009 11:25 AM
Boris from NJ

So much B/S from this guy. After Gates talked to MIT students, there was a record enrollement in Computer Science courses in 1997. When these people graduated in 2001, the Internet bubble crashed, H-1B's were agreeing to any salary in order to stay in this country. Since then - American students do not go into CS and engineering.

May. 01 2009 11:24 AM
Michael West from Green Wood Heights, Brooklyn

Do we want jobs for American born people or are we looking at a "brain drain"?

May. 01 2009 11:23 AM
Chris from New York

Bravo Obama! let's take care of American citizens first! It has nothing to do with xenophobia, it has to do with taking care of American workers/citizens.

My two cousins, both engineers have not been able to find a decent paying job. Both were laid off recently and jobs the being offered now pay almost nothing.

Great Obama! Let’s help employ American citizens before we bring other people here to work. There is nothing wrong if the need is there but right now American citizens need jobs!

May. 01 2009 11:23 AM
marie Dolan from CT

I don't think it's true that Americans are not becoming engineers. I recently heard the head of admissions of Brown Univ. speak and he said that engineering was the most popular major of the freshmen class.

May. 01 2009 11:23 AM
David from Manhattan

Can your guest compare the immigration programs between the US and other countries, e.g., India?

My understanding is that it's still much easier to come to America to work than to travel to most other countries.

May. 01 2009 11:22 AM
Boris from NJ

I don't understand how this guy can accuse Americans of xenophobia. I had a case when my Indian boss and his Indian side-kick insisted on hiring a less qualified Indian IIT graduate, than a more qualified American. I had to go over his head to hire the American worker.

May. 01 2009 11:21 AM
hjs from 11211

did he say he would chop off his kid's head??

May. 01 2009 11:21 AM
Jake from NYC

>>>I think the main problem is that Americans shun math, physics, and engineering. They rather be lawyers or bankers.<<

That's because they see wages for engineers driven down by cheap imported labor, and in many case see older engineers laid-off.

The well-paid lawyers help corporations get around the immigration laws.

I work in IT on Wall St. There are a handful of native English speakers on my floor of over a hundred workers. Some foreign workers would be welcome, but this is ridiculous.

May. 01 2009 11:21 AM
Merrill from New York, NY

Robert's example is not correct. H1B requires that the wages be market rate and uses the Department of Labor's wage standards.

May. 01 2009 11:21 AM
Kevin Spellman from Island Park New York

The opposite of this is the brain drain. These individuals that are so highly educated in the US don't want to go back home where their skills are so desparately needed.

May. 01 2009 11:20 AM
David from new york

I know it is unintuitive, but if you refuse to let the best talent in the world work here, they will strengthen the skilled labor markets in their own countries and will make American companies less competitive. American companies by in large hire Americans. We need to hire the best talent to be the best companies in the world. India is a huge competitor now for high skilled jobs, if you don't let the talent in, we will not be able to compete. Immigration has always made this country great. Almost all of us are immigrants. I am an American software developer and I want software development to stay here in the States. Please let the best and brightest in to work in the country.

May. 01 2009 11:20 AM
Michael West from Green Wood Heights, Brooklyn

Is this a function of the openness of student visas?

May. 01 2009 11:19 AM
Phoebe from NJ

Agree with caller Robert 100%.

May. 01 2009 11:19 AM
Alan from Manhattan

Professor Norm Matloff at UC Davis has shown that the belief that there are not enough Americans with the proper software skills is false.

The H-1B visa program is used by industry to keep wages suppressed; it's a sort of indentured servitude program.

May. 01 2009 11:19 AM
igon tichy from It's overshore outsourcing too

What's so 'dumb' about making sure that there are no Americans who can do the same job.
This gentleman is out of touch. Corporations are still hiring foreign workers. In the area of computer pogrammer, they simply employ something called offshoring whereby they displace Americans with Asian workers who stay in Asia and work for a mere fraction of the salary of the American.

May. 01 2009 11:17 AM
kali from Jersey City

what about when employers throw out U.S.-based QUALIFIED workers and replace them with workers they bring in from abroad ONLY TO SAVE MONEY AND PAY THEM LESS? (as happened to me)

this has nothing to do with qualifications, only with employers trying making quick buck by paying a lower salary for the same job an American worker was doing...

May. 01 2009 11:17 AM
Max Z.

This is so not true. I work for one of these big companies. What is done here is that people are hired from abroad who do not have the skills needed. The company pays them a very small salary and we end up training them. At which point they go back home, and do the work we trained them to do there. Then we get the next person to train.

First fix the abuse of the system, than re-open the visas. We are not getting educated people, we are educating and sending abroad at the cost of jobs here.

May. 01 2009 11:17 AM
Jim from NYC

I am one of those highly trained American workers who have trouble getting a job because of the influx of H1-B's.

What most people don't realize is that the system is overwhelmingly abused, primarily by huge Indian consulting companies.

Many if not most of the H1-B resumes are padded
and difficult to verify, since the degrees are from foreign colleges.

This is ALL about cheaper labor.

And even if an American tries to get a job at the lower rate, they will have a hard time because the H1-B who interviews them generally feels more comfortable with people from their own culture.

I was laid off with a bunch of American citizens from my last job. Virtually all the H1-B's were kept.

May. 01 2009 11:16 AM
Merrill from New York, NY

I was in Uganda and a hotel owner told me that his son was a professional in the US. What he said to me next has haunted me: "You take our best." It is one thing for us to need professionals; it is another thing for us to strip a country of their best. Not sure what the solution is.

May. 01 2009 11:13 AM
Michael West from Green Wood Heights, Brooklyn

This law is not unlike those of other countries. If I wanted to move to Bermuda as a musician, I would need to prove that nobody else could perform like me.

May. 01 2009 11:13 AM
Boris from NJ

Lies, lies, lies

1. H-1B is NON-immigrant visa. These are temp wokers, coming here, displacing American labor, and leaving... Indian minister called these visas - outsourcing visas.

2. Many studies show that H-1B's are underpaid - so much for the best and the brightest.

3. - training seminar teaching companies how NOT to hire American workers

4. Indian nationalism. Visit any IT department today - 100% Indians.

May. 01 2009 11:13 AM
Melissa from Jackson Heights, Queens

I know that many of the bankers in New York are from other countries and other than causing problems with our financial system come here with a package which includes their living expenses which only serves to support the outrageous rents in Manhattan.

I say send them home!!!!

May. 01 2009 11:12 AM
Phoebe from NJ

I agree 100% with Comment 2 Walter. The H1B system is widely abused by employers. They bring in people to carry out jobs where there are plenty of US citizens with applicable skills, in order to drive the costs of business down.

In the pharmaceutical industry, wages for Ph.D. scientists have actually regressed over the past 10 years, with most research positions being filled by Indian and Chinese employees.

Comment 1 from Tony is correct; Americans do shun math, physics and engineering as the resulting jobs are career paths are less attractive than law, finance, business etc. This would not be the case if the H1B system did not push wages down; the market would correct to interest Americans in these careers.

May. 01 2009 11:07 AM
george bendemann from Hackensack

Like most of my colleagues and friends who work or have worked as computer programmers, we have experienced being displaced by programmers from India. They work cheaper and put in tons of unpaid overtime. Of course corporations love them. Jack Welch at GE started the trend decades ago. Chalk up another loss for the American worker.

May. 01 2009 11:07 AM
hjs from 11211

why can't amerikans be trained for these jobs. free college to those who study math, science, and engineering. it's a matter of national security for goodness sake!

May. 01 2009 11:06 AM

>>>I think the main problem is that Americans shun math, physics, and engineering. They rather be lawyers or bankers.<<

Tony, the sad fact is that you are probably right. But I think it may have to do with how these subjects are taught. How did they teach these subjects in your native land?

Ironically I am prepping for the CFA Level 2 exam (a test in finance), but I had difficulty with some of the math because it was so focused on notation and getting to the solution to a symbol that you forget what it is that you are trying to solve. But math for finance at least gives me an end game. I know what the value of something is (i can make money).

If this country really wants to encourage more interest in math, science and physics, they need to make it more conceptual, less notation driven at the early stages of learning.

You need to see what most of the science and math can actually do. To teach engineering and science there should be field trips to construction sites, chemical plants etc..

Obviously the calculations and symbols are needed. But why use greek all the time? Why not use symbols that most people can identify with? It's taught in a very dry way.

So as a result a lot of people who are smart get turned off by it at an early age.

May. 01 2009 11:06 AM


If you are going to import H1B people, then you must pay them and treat them like regular full-time employees. You must also make it easy for them to get a greencard, put them on a track towards citizenship and they have to renounce the citizenship of their native country.

I mean if there is truly a shortage, then this shouldn't be an issue right? Or, unless you just want to cut your labor cost.

They should not be temporary disposable workers.

May. 01 2009 10:53 AM

How can this guy have any credibility. He is Indian. His organization TIE that he is the head of celebrates outsourcing.

And, isn't importing labor a violation of the free market? When workers get laid off, or when wages are being slashed, the justification is the free market. "Business is slow, the economy is slow etc."

But when there is a huge demand for labor in good times, instead of the workers getting the upside of that demand in higher median wages, the corporations can essentially change the rules (manipulate the market) by importing cheaper labor, outsourcing jobs, and prevent wages from reaching their true market price.

Workers do not have this option in the reverse. We can't go out and import employers thereby increasing the pool of employers and thereby charge higher wages to USA firms or USA wages to foreign companies.

This is what is inherently unfair about this system. The average worker can't use globalization to his advantage. Only the corporation.

May. 01 2009 10:41 AM
Tony from San Jose, CA

I am a French citizen under an H1b visa right now (In Silicon Valley).

While in grad school in Pasadena, the vast majority of students were foreign. I think the main problem is that Americans shun math, physics, and engineering. They rather be lawyers or bankers.

I am learning Chinese these days, just in case...

May. 01 2009 10:25 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.