Monday 22 November 2010
Apparently a lot of people in the USA are upset about the H1-B visa program, especially as it applies to "IT" workers.
I've always found it ironic that at the same time Americans complain about foreigners stealing US jobs, people in the originating countries complain about the "brain drain" of talent moving to the US. Can both groups be right? Would everyone be better off if talent stayed at home?
I tend to think not. I suspect the complainants on the US side undervalue the contributions of foreign workers. If they successfully shut down visa programs, jobs will simply be outsourced to where the workers are. If outsourcing is throttled, entire companies will move. In any event the whole US economy will suffer.
Personally, I think a reduced inflow of talent to the USA would be a good outcome. "Brain drain" effects are destabilizing; they create vicious cycles in the originating countries, and don't deliver commensurate benefits to the destination country.
A confounding issue here is that "IT" and "high tech" are not synonymous. A lot of H1B jobs are IT drudgery; changes there will not affect genuine innovation or national competitiveness. Making it difficult for PhD graduates to stay is a different story, but I suspect this important distinction will be lost in the battle.