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H1B holders: indentured labors of modern days?

February 10th, 2009 · 12 Comments

Warning: This post might be offensive to some folks. I want to make clear that my intention is to tell another side of this controversy issue based what I know. I believe this is not a “black or white” issue, and we should try to understand the different perspectives in order to have a healthy and constructive debate.

A friend of mine just got his green card. It’s hard to describe how excited and relieved he was. It was an extremely painful journey.

He had been working hard at a large Fortune 500 Internet company for more than eight years.  He joined the company right after he got his computer science degree. The company had a very strict policy — it didn’t sponsor any entry-level employee (as defined by his level). As a college hire, his level was level 1. He must reach level 2 to be eligible for green card sponsorship.

The company also promoted a very flat structure — which means it’s pretty hard to move up the ladder. In fact, on average, it takes 2-3 years to get promoted.

My friend was a hard worker who did excellent job, but he had 5 managers during the first 24 months of his career at this company. It’s virtually impossible for him to maintain any continuity with the management. Frequent management change is a norm in this particular company.

Eventually, by luck, my friend found a group with some management stability. But, he didn’t get the promotion until 4 years after he joined the firm. Then, he had to go through a painful process with the company legal department to start the application process. The company legal department was very slow in responding to his request – they said that they didn’t have enough people. Finally, he was approaching his 5-year limit for his H1B Visa. Of course, the company wanted to keep this valuable employee. They then started to really help him on his green card application.

He was and still is paid at least 30% lower than his peers.

Now, he got his green card, but he still couldn’t leave. The company has a policy that if he leaves within one year of getting his green card, he has to pay back the application fees, which is about $20K.

It has been a painful journey for him. The work environment was very intense. Management was ruthless. It’s a sweat shop. But, he has no choice but hang in there. He was so stressed that he got really sick and had to be hospitalized with a serious illness. While on his hospital bed, he was still talking about getting his laptop so that he could work — he couldn’t afford to lost the job. Without green card, he couldn’t apply any other jobs in the United States (the annual H1B quota ran out very quickly) which means his whole family must leave the country. He stuck with this employer. He had no choice but continue to slave away.

There are a lot of backlashes against H1B holders right now. Based on our Layoff Satisfaction Survey results, some folks believed that we needed to decrease/eliminate H1B visas, and let Americans to get the jobs.

This is a complex issue — we need to have an open and healthy debate on this issue.

From what I know, it’s not easy for the H1B holders; in fact, it could be painful — they’re the indentured labors of modern days.

Tags: Beat Recession · Frustration@Work

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 momofuku // Feb 10, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I really feel bad about your friend. He was definitely exploited and has lived a hard life the last few years. After reading your post, I couldn’t find your position on this issue. So I’ll just throw mine out. First of all, its a depressing world we live in, that’s just life. Whatever your friend went through in our country, by some reasoning of his own, would have been better than his other option of returning back to his country. As an American, I can’t feel 100% sorry for him, because he’s foreigner and he is competing for our jobs. It’s our governments duty to prevent immigration from being a free-for-all.

    So here’s my take, on the whole H1B thing. The system the way it stands now, is rife with abuse because of stories like your friends. But its also a source of opportunity, because face it, without immigrants some of us wouldn’t have an IT career in the U.S. A solid 95% of my coworkers are non-American. In the companies that I have been in, at least in Silicon Valley, I have not seen one team member singled out and treated like a slave as in your friends case. The true fact is that as a team, we were all abused!
    But as an American, the great thing was that I could leave if the company and its management were filled with a bunch of A-holes. So my view is that we should stop tying H1B visas to a particular company. Im not an expert on how H1B visas work, but I do know that some entity needs to “sponsor” an immigrant to make sure they’re worthy of staying in our country. I say move this to our universities.

  • 2 Andrew W. // Feb 10, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    It’s definitely a sad situation. My dad went through similar issues when he tried to get his Green Card. I wish your friend the best.

    Regarding the suggestion of having universities as H1B sponsors, I seriously doubt it will happen. The purpose of the H1B Visa is to have companies temporarily employee foreigners. This also ensures that the visa holder will be an income tax payer. To give universities the sponsorship power could potentially create more highly educated, but unemployed people who utilize welfare programs, instead of contributing to them.

  • 3 srg // Feb 25, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Your friend has a choice. He can return to his country. He is not a “slave”.

    What about all of the US workers that have lost their jobs to visa holders in this country and outsourcing? I know so many people that paid for their own education and also worked very hard for their companies – devoting a good portion of their life to a company only to lose their job to outsourcing, H1Bs (and L1s don't forget). These are high paying jobs we are talking about – not fast food service jobs. Even at a reduction these employees are paid well. Especially because most of the visa holders and workers in the countries we have outsource to are younger and less experienced than their former US peers that are being laid off. At one time these people were paid entry wages as well.

    This program was put in place to address a “worker shortage” in the country or cases where the company could not find skilled US workers qualified to do the work. With unemployment at 10% in many states and still rising, obviously this is no longer the case so this program should be dissolved. OR some of the stimulus package should be devoted to retraining Americans. These programs put an additional burden on our job market because spouses of some visa holders (L1 Visas) are also allowed to work. Which further negatively impacts the supply of jobs available to US workers and contributes to downward pricing on wages since these visa workers will work for much less.

    It's a sad story but there are lots of outsourced jobs in your friend's country he or she can return to, evident by the high turnover rates in these countries.

  • 4 true // Mar 6, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Thats sad and true. I

    In my case, I had to wait for my GC processing to begin after my 1-year tenure. I was happy for the Wednesday meeting with the GC attorney which my Manager had accepted the planner. But the same week- Monday afternoon I was laid off. Don't know where I am now.

  • 5 itprousa // Mar 11, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    We Americans got to get back to a “I am my brother's keeper” unity.

    H1 and L1 visa guest workers are a fundamental attack against the prosperity of our well being as American Citizens/ American IT workers. I encourage all the disgusted and disgruntled IT folks to expose the fraud to the best of our abilities!! Google – get out there – and let the truth be known…

  • 6 NotaSlave // Mar 11, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    This article contains some factually inaccurate information. The “slave” could have opted for a visa transfer, so the “quota ran out” excuse is bogus.
    Also calling H-1bs indentured slaves is also incorrect. There is no concept of “exit visa” like saudi arabia where the employer has to give you permission to leave the country. The H-1B can resign after giving due notice and go back to his home country.

  • 7 truth // Apr 30, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    I completely agree with your comments on this.

    H1B is not really for highly skilled resources (but for cheap, educated labors to do hard tasks). Those who work on H1B (well most of them) are from economically weaker class and really don't have much choice but to move to America to earn some money, return back their home and have safety net of money for future. They are really very poor and don't even have proper food just to save money. Further they slog day and night in front of their computers even after returning from work, just to keep themselves updated on new technology. One more thing is they can only work for their employer who sponsored their visa, who leverages them as best as he can.

    These H1B holders pay for their visa with their own money, then fly to America with their own money and stay in some guest house, in large numbers; eat food just one time a day of minimum cost, work more then 16 hours a day and finally get paid only 30% to 40% of the actually salary. Once they get on projects, they become loyal hard workers because if they don't perform they will be thrown back to their native country.
    More on this is they now want Green Card for which they slog 8 to 10 years of their life and by the time they get this they are already old and visibly weak.

    I have personally seen this situations with my own eyes. H1B usually come through consulting companies and these companies hardly have any marketing arm, they work on corp-to-corp basis which means third party….makes situations further worst.

    H1B consultant literally is asked to modify his resume latest 20 times in a day to submit for a particular requirement and he is also asked to learn the skills which he has never known in his entire career. Poor H1B consultant learns that and attempts for interview, rather getting an interview is itself a big challenge, because one Corporation sends his H1B consultants CV to another Corporation which in turn sends it to third and so on …i don't know the chain…so each corporation interviews that H1B consultant and tries to copy his resume and pass that information to promote his own H1B consultant, which means any Consulting company not having marketing and sponsoring H1B consulting will give extreme tough time for their consultants…and all the best to those consultants going for the sponsorship of such company.

    Further if an H1B consultant is lucky his resume lands in hand of prime vendor (just another contractor company) who has actually got hold of client where the requirement exists, and when that organization calls the consultant to have discussion with him; if they find that he is no US citizen or (non white) they give very cold treatment.

    So my advice to all those seeking H1B and come to work in USA is to pls. read this and THINK If you are really highly qualified & US really needs your skills on H1B visa would you have to face so many difficulties. If you are so qualified and highly skilled you would actually get very well job in your own country.

    If you still want to America. Best of luck and be prepared to face time of your life.
    US Citizens don't have jobs so how would you get job by coming on H1B.

    All the above points described by me are live examples of highly skilled people with several years experience, engineers and master degree holders.

  • 8 paramvirsingh // Jul 21, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    I totally agree with you.I am myself graduated with an MS from US and worked from day 1 after graduating, changed jobs 2-3 times, once for green card issue. I told my company to file my green card or that I am leaving. I was laid off the next month. I got another better job within 10 days.

    The only difference is I do not want to beg the government or the companies here. The last thing I want in life is someone exploiting me in the name or rules and laws.

    I dont see any future for me and my family in this country. I have no rights no benefits and I pay $25K in just taxes alone every year. And I am moving out to Canada on immigration or in worst case back to Punjab and start farming my OWN land.

    I dont want to be on my knees to get green card. I want it with my head high and fast or I am out of here. I can't be wasting precious years of my life paying heavy taxes without benefits and waiting in a line for green card hopelessly. Govt. here can change rules overnight and immigration dept. loves to play with highly educated professional's fates.

    I did not had this attitude when I first came from India to US, but I got this attitude here only and now even India looks great and promising.

  • 9 GeekMBA360 // Jul 21, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Thanks for your comments! I appreciate your honesty and having the gut not to give in to the “indentured system of green card”.

    I think as developing countries such as India and China continue to develop, more and more professionals will choose to go back to these countries for better opportunities. In the past, the talents from developing countries have made huge contribution to the United States. I wouldn't be surprised that there would be a brain drain in the future if we continue the strict and unreasonable immigration policy with regard to work permit and green cards.

  • 10 thatsright // Nov 13, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    The US immigration policy is the best of the world. For the country, not for the immigrants. So this guy comes here and works hard for cheap several years, paying taxes and generating a lot of money for the country. If he gets frustrated and wakes up he quits this slavery and goes back to his country. He sells his house, cars and goods, and the economy keeps turning.

    Then another one comes and the story repeats. They do not stay here to enjoy retirement or anything. All money they generated goes towards the american citizens. Those can always apply for another job and even be jobless for some time without having to leave everything behind.

    A small minority is lucky or brave enough to work under these conditions for several years and get their green cards.

    There are jobs for everybody. Just like the employers who hire illegal immigrants, IT companies use the H1/L1 visa holders as cheap workforce. The government does not do anything because it is the best for the country. The economy keeps turning and prices remain affordable. Welcome to America.

  • 11 thatsright // Nov 13, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    The US immigration policy is the best of the world. For the country, not for the immigrants. So this guy comes here and works hard for cheap several years, paying taxes and generating a lot of money for the country. If he gets frustrated and wakes up he quits this slavery and goes back to his country. He sells his house, cars and goods, and the economy keeps turning.

    Then another one comes and the story repeats. They do not stay here to enjoy retirement or anything. All money they generated goes towards the american citizens. Those can always apply for another job and even be jobless for some time without having to leave everything behind.

    A small minority is lucky or brave enough to work under these conditions for several years and get their green cards.

    There are jobs for everybody. Just like the employers who hire illegal immigrants, IT companies use the H1/L1 visa holders as cheap workforce. The government does not do anything because it is the best for the country. The economy keeps turning and prices remain affordable. Welcome to America.

  • 12 Platform Beds // Dec 2, 2010 at 3:29 am

    That is sad.

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