Maltreated H-1B Workers Begin to Find a Voice

There was a thought-provoking article in the SF Chronicle Sunday on the current quandaries faced by high-skilled foreign workers on H-1B Visas in the U.S. A very large proportion of these are Indian (49%), and in high-tech and computer fields (45%).

Currently, the system has problems on every side: first, representatives of software companies (chief among them Microsoft’s Bill Gates) have loudly asserted that they need for the number of available H-1B visas to be increased, as there are currently significant numbers of unfilled positions in many computer related fields (and this is even despite the explosion of outsourcing in the past five years). Secondly, there is confusion about whether H-1B should be understood as a temporary visa, or the first stage on the path to a green card; most Indians I know presume it’s the latter, while the government still seems to think it’s the former. And finally, the system clearly hasn’t been working very well for the immigrants themselves: it currently takes between 6 and 12 years for an Indian on an H1-B to be given a green card, even with employers willing to sponsor them. Confusingly, it takes much less time for H-1B workers from other national backgrounds to be given a green card once they find sponsorship. One of the surprises to me in the SF Chronicle article is the fact that the USCIS doesn’t even really know how many H-1B workers with Green Card sponsors there are:

Stuck in the middle is a federal government that has problems tracking the visas. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that oversees this guest-worker program, can’t answer basic questions including:

– How many foreign-born professionals are working in the United States on H-1B visas now?

– What percentage of H-1B visa holders seek green cards instead of returning home?

– How many H-1B visa holders and family members are awaiting green cards?

“The cumulative numbers you are looking for simply aren’t available,” said Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman Chris Bentley. “These are not issues we track.”

This admission of ignorance is really depressing: it suggests how low on the government’s priority list the H-1B workers really are. “It’s not something we track” is a way of saying, “no one really seems to care about this.”

Fortunately, a new organization has cropped up to advocate for H1-B workers: Immigration Voice. They’ve hired a PR firm to help them make their case in public, and they’re trying to influence the push to reform the H1-B system that is currently starting to work its way through Congress.

On a personal note, I should say that my wife started working in the U.S. (in the Bay Area) on an H-1B visa, and I’ve seen the ins and outs of this deeply flawed system at work. I feel strongly that the H1-B system is essential to the U.S. economy, and that H1-B workers, who come to the U.S. with advanced university degrees and unique skills, ought to be fast-tracked to permanent resident (Green Card) status. As it is, 1.1 million people (according to Immigration Voice’s number) are currently waiting in limbo, unsure whether to plan on staying in the U.S. permanently — and everything that might come with that — or whether they should continue to presume they’ll be heading back to the countries they started from.

Finally, I also think second-gen desis in the U.S. — particularly all the desi lawyers out there — ought to be advocating for better treatment for the Indians who are here on H-1B visas. As of now I haven’t seen much of this.

342 thoughts on “Maltreated H-1B Workers Begin to Find a Voice

  1. The comments are not necessarily to do with you but with the assertions you make here and on other posts. You have a habit of leaving sweeping remarks without substance and backing and I guess that is what irks most people. You may be the nicest person IRL but on an internet forum the only judge of your personality is your written word.

  2. The H1-B system is not flawed – however, the H1-B for US university educated people should be different category (not just based on numbers like the 20,000 limit) and the GC process for those people should be expedited. Some folks have already said this, but I can repeat. The whole purpose of selecting “good” immigrants is the following:

    1. Able to assimilate (college campus are great for that – football, greeks, pizza)
    2. Able to speak english (no one can survive college without honing their comm skills)
    3. Skills and Ability(again no questions, US campuses prepare you for jobs here)

    I like many others have spent more than 10 years in this country, and wonder why bright young folks doing MS/PhDs are competing with the sweat shops like Wipro and TCS for H1-Bs?? Also, no offense, but folks who went to school here have spent time, money and shown ambition; whereas during the late 90s, any nathu-gera from NIIT course was coming here and getting the same job (its a market arbitrage!!). The two groups are very different..

  3. you cant diagnose anything on a message board. psychiatric diagnosis is a rigerous process done by highly trained professionals after far more personal interactions with a person. pl dont attack individuals. it is disrespectful. I am going now.

    Even trained professionals abuse their power.. They can claim someone they don’t like is shizo when they are really not..

  4. Puliogre,

    Just to step back the question that Amardeep so eloquently raised in his post was the flaws with the H1 system and USCIS’ perception of it and following are some of your responses:

    To avoid any confusion the italicized comments below are a gist of your contribution to this thread:

    I know people on H1 who hate America I am entitled to complain because my father came here and I was born here I like Biopot I think people who make Biopot should be given H1 visas Shut up and live here and be greatful or if you have to complain go back to India People who have been here 35 years still hate America People come here for Monetary betterment, say that they will go back but are still here after countless years.

  5. I know a lot of people who claim they will go back but they either never do go back OR they go back and come back the US after a year or two of living in India..

  6. To avoid any confusion the italicized comments below are a gist of your contribution to this thread:

    geez. a bad summary. actually manages to get what i was saying wrong. not enough time for a detailed response.

  7. F-1s are only exempt from FICA for the first five years of their stay in the US. J-1s are exempt for the first two years.

    Yes, I know about F-1s and that’s right.. don’t know about J-1s though..

    H-1Bs should be paid the market wage and for every H1B employee, the company should advertise the salary of the concerned employee in the common notice board or kitchen area in their office for 10 official working days. If anyone finds it abnormal they can file a complaint to the labour department. So H1Bs do not earn less than their counterparts.

    If there is misuse, I suspect it is mostly done by the Indian consulting companies..

  8. H-1Bs should be paid the market wage and for every H1B employee, the company should advertise the salary of the concerned employee in the common notice board or kitchen area in their office for 10 official working days. If anyone finds it abnormal they can file a complaint to the labour department. So H1Bs do not earn less than their counterparts. If there is misuse, I suspect it is mostly done by the Indian consulting companies..

    if an H1B can switch jobs, how can an employer pay him less than mkt? wouldnt he then just leave? i heard guys on internal transfer visas cant switch jobs. for them i can see a very clear reason why emnployers would underpay, but i didnt htink H1B’s had the same issues as those guys.

  9. 302

    Also, no offense, but folks who went to school here have spent time, money and shown ambition; whereas during the late 90s, any nathu-gera from NIIT course was coming here and getting the same job (its a market arbitrage!!). The two groups are very different..

    ….Whew! (Thanking the Lord that I moved here in 2001)

    And folks who went to expensive schools in their home des ( in the face of immense competition), joined leading IT companies ( in the face of immense competition), moved half-way across the world to what they thought was a better life… did not show “ambition” or spend “time and money”? Aw ,c’mon ! I don’t think that’s fair !

    BTW, I think the new immigration bill also has special provisions for H1Bs for folks who graduated /did their master’s from American universities and I do think that’s a fine idea.

  10. BTW, I think the new immigration bill also has special provisions for H1Bs for folks who graduated /did their master’s from American universities and I do think that’s a fine idea.

    is there more variance in quality in indian grad schools? if that is the case, than i can understand why you would want a special process for guys form US grad shcools. but, if they are the same, why not just make it easy for guys with masters degrees to get here, stay here, and switch jobs (green card style). im sure 9/11 isnt a good excuse. the hijackers werent desi techies at the end of the day.

  11. Puliyogare,

    Much as I hate to admit it ( having studied only in the des) – there is a difference in a Master’s degree from the US and from the Des( always subject to the disclaimer that it also depends to a smaller extent on which college you do it from )

    I was rebutting QuantJock’s point that those desis who studied here display more ambition etc BUT I agree that a Master’s degree from the US probably prepares you better for the workforce here ( Ducks at the brickbats that are sure to follow) .Hence I think its ok for the new immigration bill to have more H1s for US graduates.

  12. Hey #264 butter chicken: no prob and thanks for the nice reply! Very refreshing to see on a long thread

    PS: Not a dude.

    PPS: Seriously, those of you that are so very knowledgeable about the system should get involved; I’ve learned a lot. Also, Melbourne desi highlights what will happen if the US doesn’t get a handle on the system. The best and brightest that we want to attract to the US will go elsewhere :(

  13. Well I am no software programmer and live on the other side of hte Atlantic. Leave apart software programmers but even investment bankers and bond traders, who might be the highest paid workers in the country are a subject of this lottery.

    More over as for F1 should be directly given GC, I understand your frustration, but then dude, get a life. There is rest of the world apart from the US.

    Soon you might see Firms opening up offices elsewhere, (singapore hong kong) and may see mass migration the other way

  14. That’s like Germany having a team called “The Berlin Kikes”

    That sounds like a Neo Nazi band name. Are they responsible for this song?

    … any sort of melody with the words “Hier Kommt Die Schwester/Pass Auf”?
  15. There was an excellent opportunity for discussion and maybe support gathering here, but the whole thread got trivialized. I guess most people don’t care. See thats why I don’t blame the politicians, they know that if they help the Hispanic population get green cards, the people from that community who are already citizens will vote in their favor. But I don’t think most of the people with desi heritage will have any similar considerations. This makes me look at Manish’s new post in quite a different light, how true it is!

  16. There was an excellent opportunity for discussion and maybe support gathering here, but the whole thread got trivialized. I guess most people don’t care. See thats why I don’t blame the politicians, they know that if they help the Hispanic population get green cards, the people from that community who are already citizens will vote in their favor. But I don’t think most of the people with desi heritage will have any similar considerations. This makes me look at Manish’s new post in quite a different light, how true it is!

    even if desis cared passionately, not sure if there are enough of us to mtter form a politicl voting block size perspective.

  17. Not to make a big deal of this issue, but once again…

    And folks who went to expensive schools in their home des ( in the face of immense competition), joined leading IT companies ( in the face of immense competition), moved half-way across the world to what they thought was a better life… did not show “ambition” or spend “time and money”? Aw ,c’mon ! I don’t think that’s fair !

    Expensive schools in India – hmm, compare a fees of $25,000 (atleast) in a good private Univ here with your “expensive” indian schools (even those money grubbing, useless “manipal” type schools dont charge that much).

    IT companies – hmm, in my batch, all of the CS and non-CS folks who didnt want to go to US for higher studies were lapped up by the IT majors. I had an interview too – they asked me to make a cartoon of the interviewer (because I admitted I didnt know any programming, but knew Cartooning). I got the job!!!

    Moved half-way across the world – hmm, dude, you moved to US, not Darfur. SO no credit for you there. That doesn’t prove ambition..

    Anways, i know very smart folks who belong in one category or the other. I am not picking on anyone. I just think there should be 2 categories – period!!

  18. QuantJock,

    Sorry to hear you had such a bad campus interview experience – though I think you are exaggerating. As someone who has extensively conducted campus interviews across India . I think that is totally not representative of the truth.

    Expensive schools – dude, please realize that yes , school in India is expensive relative to what people earn there. A $ to rupee comparison is unfair at best and vicious at worst. And those who just could not afford to come to the US to study – yes I think they demonstrated immense ambition in moving here.

    Uh Darfur? That has no relevance at all and its specious to bring it into the discussion.

    I am truly sorry that you feel this way.

    I think you missed the point : I agreed with the 2 categories but not for the reasons you said

  19. The H1-B system is not flawed – however, the H1-B for US university educated people should be different category (not just based on numbers like the 20,000 limit) and the GC process for those people should be expedited. Some folks have already said this, but I can repeat. The whole purpose of selecting “good” immigrants is the following: 1. Able to assimilate (college campus are great for that – football, greeks, pizza) 2. Able to speak english (no one can survive college without honing their comm skills) 3. Skills and Ability(again no questions, US campuses prepare you for jobs here) I like many others have spent more than 10 years in this country, and wonder why bright young folks doing MS/PhDs are competing with the sweat shops like Wipro and TCS for H1-Bs?? Also, no offense, but folks who went to school here have spent time, money and shown ambition; whereas during the late 90s, any nathu-gera from NIIT course was coming here and getting the same job (its a market arbitrage!!). The two groups are very different..’

    I have a modest proposal:

    1. People should be made to demonstrate adequate financial support before being given permission to enter the country.
    2. Once they enter the country, they should be subject to a probationary period where they demonstrate that they are law abiding, and that they will indeed be of value to the US.
    3. The demonstration of value will be through the power of the market: if a company in the US sees fit to hire and retain this person for many years, they must be good enough. This will clearly separate the elite wheat of the IITs from the chaff of the NIITs (any play on IIT/NIIT is hereby copyrighted).
    4. This probationary period will of course be temporary.
    5. The cost of administering this program will be funded through taxes that workers in this program pay.
    6. At the end of the period, if the person is deemed acceptable, they will then be given a renewable extension to stay here for 10 years and the freedom to find their own employer.
    7. Naturally, in order to protect the purity of American civilization, there should be a limit on how many people win this extension.
    8. Eventually, if they demonstrate adequate loyalty by smelling good, knowing who’s face is on a $5 bill, and winning Puliogre’s approval, they will win the right to not be deported summarily or thrown into Gitmo (at least without a semblance of due process).

    Senators Sensenbrenner and Tancredo, I suggest you get on this idea NOW.

  20. knowing who’s face is on a $5 bill,

    Ah, the Internets have finally gotten to me! It’s WHOSE face is on a $5 bill, not who’s.

  21. Rahul,

    $5 says that your proposal will be picked up and quoted extensively by the anti-immigration press online in the next week cheers!

  22. If someone not of Indian heritage wanted to emigrate to India; how easy is it to get a work visa? Just FYI…..

    *Hey, someone has to make the point, as apparently, the US should have a liberal open doors economic and immigration policy, but Indian workers need to be protected from Wal-mart.

    **Apparently, demonstrating good citizenship is a thing to be made fun of, rather than an essential part of a well functioning society. Oh dear. I suppose I understand the need to emigrate…

    ***This, by the way, is me just having fun. I neither endorse, nor non-endorse the above comments :)

    ****The next time I go to India I shall complain mightly about everything in India, and compare it to the US, unfavorably. I mean, it’s perfectly right to complain, isn’t it? What’s the big deal?

    *****The most important thing to remember is that, well, rank chauvinism is the same thing as a little mind complaining. It’s very important that when someone complains about ethnic or national chauvinism, to misunderstand the point and think the person is simply against any honest, healthy criticisms.

  23. Last bit of fun before the SM intern shuts down this thread: actually, I’m a free trader, so, you know. Rhetorical points and all that for the clueless.

  24. MD Mausi, If someone not of Indian heritage wanted to emigrate to India; how easy is it to get a work visa? Just FYI…..

    In less than three days, I am headed for oversees, and therefore, I am very busy. I would have loved to answer your questions with “some facts“, but it will pass. Anyway, I heard you are headed for a stint with Green Berets @ Falujah, Iraq as a frontline medic in 2 weeks. Bravo!! Salut !! My respects. Finally, some action after reading all those military blogs.

    Now, to your question:

    Visa or any paper work in India is quite (very slow) difficult, however, there are people (in past, and especially in last 5-6 years, it is increasing exponentially) who are going to India to work. Bangalore is full of expats.

    If you have someone like Infosys, TCS, Google India is doing the visa paperwork for you in India, then it is damn easy all of a suddent – They have professional facilitators, and someone talked about them in NYTimes, three days ago.

    Other questions will pass till I come back from oversees. You should know. Weren’t you born in India, and have read about Bangalore. So long, Mausi.

  25. And, to clarify, finally (boy, SM intern, ban me from this thread for my own good :) )

    I have tremendous sympathy for the plight of H1b types and other immigrants (being one myself). I’m a free marketer myself, and would like to see a more open US and Indian economy. It’s just that the inability of some of you to see that there might be competing interests in a large democracy such as this, and that citizenship has both it’s rights and responsibilites, is irritating. And, also, the idea that the Americans (defined as legal immigrants and natural borns) have any say at all in what should happen around them is apparently tantamount to racism for some of you; democracy apparently means giving you want you want, regardless of the needs, wants, or desires of others. Wow.

  26. What a gentleman you are Kush, to misunderstand my rhetorical point so completely. I am sure you will give all your money to the poor while you are abroad? When you do that, I shall go to Fallujah, post haste.

    And, I know people who have tried to emigrate, real people, not just Kush theoreticals, who have had an enormously hard time. SM actually linked to the blog of one of these people before, a blog commenter named Verity. Do you remember, or great one?

    *why are you so rude?

  27. and other immigrants (being one myself).

    At last – validation :-)

    MD: No hard feelings but I am so glad to hear that !

  28. Really, the chickenhawk point Kush? I must have rattled your, er, cage. Personally, I think only those in the military should be allowed to vote. We would have invaded Iraq earlier.

    psh. rattling a cage :) To vomit the truth, I think it looks more like this person is here mainly to tell random people she got the american passport :D

  29. I’m apalled at some of the comments of “2nd Generation ABCD’s”. From my experience most of them are high browed, snobby, arrogant a**holes who look down upon people from India like they’re smelly turds or something, completely forgetting where their own roots are from.

    I am so happy I grew up in India, I know I am completely Indian rather than being confused like ABCD’s. I am very, very comfortable in my own skin unlike ABCD’s who’re confused as hell and have had to go through brutal emotial stress and torture growing up with white kids sticking fingers up their noses. Someone mentioned desis on h1-b waiting for greencards as wanting “the best of both worlds” as if there is something wrong with that! Why is it okay for an Englishman, Canadian, French etc. to get dual citizenship and thats acceptable but when honest hard working Desis do it you have to think like they have some sort of sordid evil intent???

  30. I am so happy I grew up in India, I know I am completely Indian rather than being confused like ABCD’s.

    What bullshit. I have met PLENTY of people from Indian metros (especially Mumbai) who are more confused than any ABD. The only difference is they don’t even KNOW how confused they are. And they have the arrogance to put down ABDs and call themselves “completely Indian” to boot. Yeah right.

    MD, it was refreshing to see that you want a more open Indian economy. Sometimes I get the feeling that you are so patriotic about America (which is a good thing, so am I), but don’t really care about India that much.

  31. Of course, if there was ever a conflict (or conflict of interest even) between America and India, I’d pick America…but I still care a lot about what happens in India and really want the best for her people.

  32. Puliogre, no one is denying that there are people who would gladly take advantage of what the US has to offer and then indulge in cheap talk about lack of culture etc. But I wouldn’t think they are anywhere near a majority, especially in the context of H-1B workers. I lived in the US for almost three years (and used to work for an Indian IT firm) and met very few, if any, who ‘hated’ America. Hate is a strong word to throw around – it’s not like these folks have been conspiring against anyone. Sorry about the rude post before, no offense was intended, but please limit your generalisations if you intend a civil conversation.

    My take on this is, if one wants to get a GC eventually, they should clearly find out what it’s all about, there is no point blaming the riff-raff that passed out from ‘NIIT’. They have committed to something of their own free will and oh, it’s not like they had to ride across the Atlantic in a dinghy to get there. Spent money, time and had ambition? Well, good for you. Too bad the going is tough these days. But if you are smart as you say you are, you should realise that the sweatshop dudes are not the problem. They’re going to the US because, well, they can. You got a problem with that, change the rules of the game. Wow, some people are so riled about their little American dream not materialising yet, now they want to build walls at the borders and ridicule others.

    Let’s also stop pretending that all H-1B workers are somehow mercilessly being exploited. The exploitation is there, but it’s not like people didn’t know how much they would be making when they get here. The 65-70K that a lot of folks make is not small change for them. A lot of people do realise they’re being paid less than prevalent market wages and those who can look to move on. The ones that don’t are generally people with relatively little experience or ones with ambitions of climbing up the ladder. Sympathy should go where it’s due, to those who are at the mercy of the real body shoppers operating out of dodgy set ups, not for Wipro/TCS/Infy dudes. They should be able to take care of themselves.

  33. Runa (#318), don’t think QuantJock is exaggerating, I had a similar interview (not that I complained). When there are more projects than you can handle, the objective is simply to ramp up the headcount. The bar has been lowered in the last decade or so, but a lot of candidates do meet the standards required to ‘do the job’.

  34. To those agreeing with QuantJock, do you think all the people who studied/studying in US are somehow more bright and ambitious than the ones working for Indian IT company? Just like those who got in an Indian IT company on the basis of his/her cartooning skills there are others who got in dubious US universities on the basis of parents fat bank balance and hackneyed essays googled from some “Get your dream foreign education” site. There are fools on both sides.

    Let us not fall for the “divide and rule” policy and together fight for increasing the H1Bs as well as fast tracking the H1Bs to GC, irrespective of US education. In this regard, I really appreciate the work done by Immigration Voice.

  35. To those agreeing with QuantJock, do you think all the people who studied/studying in US are somehow more bright and ambitious than the ones working for Indian IT company? Just like those who got in an Indian IT company on the basis of his/her cartooning skills there are others who got in dubious US universities on the basis of parents fat bank balance and hackneyed essays googled from some “Get your dream foreign education” site. There are fools on both sides. Let us not fall for the “divide and rule” policy and together fight for increasing the H1Bs as well as fast tracking the H1Bs to GC, irrespective of US education. In this regard, I really appreciate the work done by Immigration Voice.

    Well said, Personally, as I know both worlds, worked in a large IT company in India before coming for my Master’s degree, just because someone does not have a Master’s degree in US doesn’t mean they are not ambitious/smart. Moreover, for the work a majority of people end up doing in IT / programming, you really don’t need a Master’s degree.

  36. Puliogre, no one is denying that there are people who would gladly take advantage of what the US has to offer and then indulge in cheap talk about lack of culture etc. But I wouldn’t think they are anywhere near a majority, especially in the context of H-1B workers. I lived in the US for almost three years (and used to work for an Indian IT firm) and met very few, if any, who ‘hated’ America.

    this is probably true. clearly an overly vocal minority. the problem is that the louder you hsout, the greater your numbers appear. im sure the avg H1B type just wants his paycheck and go home.

  37. but please limit your generalisations

    was just throwing my observations out there to see what peoples reaction is. not trying to offend or generalize ot a whole group of poeple. sorry if this did not come across.

  38. Amitabh 332: When you say you have met confused Indians, what do you mean by “confused”? Do you really mean “Westernized”?

    To me for instance, a “culture” is a box of goodies developed by a certain group over generations, rather than an identifier to be stamped on your forehead. Like it is fair for a painter to mix paints, it’s fair for an individual to mix cultures. Therefore, nothing wrong with listening to indie pop instead of Indipop while sitting in Mumbai. Also, I sense a double standard– why this extra burden of “authenticity” for “ethnics”? Is a German Sanskritist who knows more about ancient India than ancient Germany “confused”? Is an American who chooses to live in Japan, is married to a Japanese, and sees it as his home?

    Culture knows no boundaries. When a “culture” dies (in the way I like to see it, a toolbox goes out of fashion), another is born. Why the fear, the need to desiccate, mummify, preserve? Look to the future, I say.

    Relevant reading: Amartya Sen’s “Identity and violence”, and Vijay Prashad’s recent article “Multiculturalism kills me” (I disagree with Vijay on almost everything, but here he makes some good points).

  39. Amitabh:

    Of course I care about India, too. And, well, everybody. Why would I want any country not to be peaceful and prosperous?

    Anyway, this has been a good conversation and I have learned a lot, thanks.

  40. I wonder why IITians (or for that matter any person of Indian origin) want to slog for a country that is dominated by racist, xenophobic figures that form a majority of the country’s elite and politics. With all the Indian (and foreigner immigrant) bashing going on, it makes sense to ask is America really a land of immigrants, or is it a land that historically exploits immigrants who exploit other immigrants and so on. Why don’t these immigrants whom America proudly claims it is for, raise their voice and become more assertive. What is so special about being a born American vs an newly arrived immigrant? All this, according to me, is a symbolic of the inferiority complex that has taken a deep-rooted seat in the mind of Indians towards the white man and wants to spread the virus (Stockholm syndrome??) to other Indians partly due to narrowmindedness, greed, paranoia and poor self-image. I am also sure that all other immigrant communities also experience the same grip of helplessness, but Indians are unique that they are very easily moulded (into inferiority) and also aggressively campaign in moudling the inferiorization of the new arrivals. By supporting this system, they are (unknowningly) abetting their own destruction. What is the use of so-called social status if you live as a marginalized people all your life in a country that treats you as an alien despite being born there? We could learn a lesson or two from the Chinese-Americans who think of themselves as Chinese first and American next. We need not hate the US, but learn to respect and stand up for ourselves.