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Optical/IP

Foreign Workers Sit Tight

A year ago the big employment story in the United States was that technology companies were lobbying Congress to expand the H1-B visa program to allow more foreign workers into the country (see Visa Envy?). There was a shortage of workers, they complained. A year later, many of these companies are laying off thousands of workers and cutting their total head counts down as much as 50 percent.

The story has shifted. The question now is what will happen to all these foreign workers who were let into the country to fill jobs during the shortage?

Neither the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) nor the U.S. Department of Labor track how many H1-B workers have been laid off, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the 400,000 workers currently employed in this country on H1-B visas haven’t been as adversely affected by the economic downturn as some had feared. At least not yet.

For example, Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), which was ranked 13th for the number of H1-B requests filed in 2000 by the INS, laid off 10,500 people between January and June of 2001. Of that number, fewer than 100 were H1-B workers, says Bill Price, a media spokesperson for Lucent. Immigration experts also say they haven’t seen a flood of H1-B visa workers looking for help.

”Honestly, the problem is not that severe,” says Greg Siskind, a partner at the law firm Siskind, Susser, Haas & Devine, which specializes in H1-B cases. “We’ve not heard of anyone being deported. And H1-B inquiries are as high as they’ve ever been.”

There are a couple of reasons why, he explains. For one, changes in the law last year have made it much easier for current H1-B visa holders to transfer jobs. So if an employer gives an employee some notice before the layoff occurs, the foreign worker has the opportunity to look for another job and simply transfer his H1-B visa to the new company.

Secondly, the INS seems to be rather sympathetic to workers who have been laid off. According to the rules, once an H1-B worker loses his job, he is not in status and must return immediately to his homeland, usually within 10 days. But Bill Strassberger, a media spokesperson for the INS says that the INS has been evaluating cases individually and generally allows 60 days.

“There is no grace period in terms of the status of the H1-B visa,” he says. “But they should have a reasonable time period to leave the country. The INS won’t be knocking on the door of every non-immigrant visa holder.”

The problem that visa holders face is that if they are terminated and find a job within the 60-day window, they must reapply for a new H1-B visa because the status of their original visa was cancelled. But Strassberger says that people in this situation are usually allowed to stay in the country while they wait for the new visa to process. Since the processing time has been greatly improved, Siskind says that a new H1-B visa only takes about two weeks to complete, versus the two to three months it used to take.

Even though companies large and small have been laying off thousands of workers, the INS reports that for fiscal 2001, which ended on September 30, companies requesting H1-B workers used up nearly all of the 195,000 spots allocated. This is more than last year, since fiscal 2001 was the first of three consecutive years that the cap has been temporarily raised to 195,000 from 115,000. It is also the first year that university researchers and professors were not included in the H1-B pool, which means the number of skilled foreign workers who entered the country in fiscal 2001 could have been much higher. Siskind estimates the true number could be as high as 240,000 foreign skilled workers.

As the economy continues to slump, however, H1-B workers may start feeling the affects. For example, consider Lucent again. Along with the 10,500 jobs it cut in the first half of this year, it plans to cut another 12,000 by the end of the year. And even though only a small fraction of the 1,700 H1-B visa holders at Lucent were affected in the first round of cuts, there is no guarantee that others won’t be affected in the next round.

The main concern, of course, is that unemployment is rising. During August and September of 2001, the unemployment rate in the United States was 4.9 percent, up from 3.9 percent a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. While 4.9 percent is still considered a low rate of unemployment, many laid off workers in the optical networking industry say that it has become extremely hard to find jobs lately. Workers in Silicon Valley, which is home to dozens of small startups and several large networking companies like Cisco and the networking division of Nortel, seem to be feeling the brunt of the pain.

“I think I’m going to have to move out of the Valley altogether,” says a software developer who recently lost his job when Geyser Networks folded. “There are so many people like me looking for work and just not enough jobs to go around. Besides, I can’t take a pay cut because it’s just too expensive to live here.”

With unemployment on the rise, some critics of H1-B visas have pointed out that the need for foreign workers has diminished. Ira Mehlman, media director for FAIR (the Federation for Immigration Reform), a group that has lobbied against the expansion of the H1-B quota, says that domestic workers should not have to compete for jobs with foreign workers in the U.S. on temporary visas.

If the economy continues to worsen (and terror-inspired xenophobia continues to grow) views such as FAIR’s could affect how the INS administers its rulings. “It all comes down to how much discretion and how lenient the INS wants to be,” says Siskind.

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com
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salsa 12/4/2012 | 7:43:54 PM
re: Foreign Workers Sit Tight I know many H1-B workers who were laid-off, and can't even get interviews. When they get a chance for a phone interview/screening (which is hard for both Americans and foreigners), they are screened out as soon as they are asked about their visa status. Companies don't want the headache of dealing with visas, and the cost of course.

Another point: in evaluating how H1-Bs compare with the overall number of workers laid off is that, you have to look at the part of the work force that H1-Bs are eligible for. You could hardly find an H1-B employee in manufacturing, so comparing them with the total is like comparing apples with oranges.
phoobah 12/4/2012 | 7:43:53 PM
re: Foreign Workers Sit Tight What a load of bunk. I feel for the difficulties faced by H1-B workers but they knew what they were signing up for. They should be the FIRST to be let go in a layoff, just like consultants. Corporate America reaps all the benefits of residing in America yet fails to support those who make this country what it is. I have heard the argument that non-H1-B workers will have an easier time of finding a new job so it's better to lay off a non-H1-B worker. What bullshit! I know plenty of good American Lucent engineers that have been laid off and have yet to find a comparable job. (burger flipping doesn't count) Jobs are tight out there for everyone but this example shows that the layoffs have unfairly punished American workers.

"For example, Lucent Technologies Inc., which was ranked 13th for the number of H1-B requests filed in 2000 by the INS, laid off 10,500 people between January and June of 2001. Of that number, fewer than 100 were H1-B workers, says Bill Price, a media spokesperson for Lucent."
LeCastor71 12/4/2012 | 7:43:53 PM
re: Foreign Workers Sit Tight I don't think you can equate foreigners with stealing American jobs or special privileges. The fact is that they were good enough to secure a position in the US on open competition operating principles & had to interview for their jobs just like you. I find your statement that "they should be the FIRST to be let go, like consultants" highly offensive. What you are proposing is a TWO-TIER system that is classed based. Isn't there a great enough gap between those who have & those who don't in this country already?

The US was founded on immigration. Unless you're a 100% native American Indian then *you're* part of the your own perceived problem.

Fact is any policy that differentiates in favour of or against Americans is discriminatory.

If you're still needed, you're needed. If you're not for financial or other reasons, they get rid of you.


speed of light 12/4/2012 | 7:43:52 PM
re: Foreign Workers Sit Tight Hey LeCastor (sounds french, are you?)

Thanks.
I am a foreign worker, and as I saw to much of these reactions in my country (foreigners are not a priority), I expected to find something else in this great "open" country.
I really hope the economy slowdown and the actual situation won't change moods.
And to answer Phoobah, I work in an american company, I drive an american car, I wear american clothes, and eat american food (actually I have no choice for the food!!), am I good enough to stay in your country?
realoptics 12/4/2012 | 7:43:51 PM
re: Foreign Workers Sit Tight "They should be the FIRST to be let go in a layoff, just like consultants" Why?? Can you give other readers a sounding reason?

I fully agree with the other reader, LeCastor71, why they have to be the first? If they are good enough,the H1-B process will get them in, if they are not good, they should even not be here at first place, I do not think the companies would be stupid enough to get somebody far way and tehy are not filling the needs of teh companies. In term of layoff evryboday should be treated equal and base on their merit to the jobs they are holding.

In my humble opinion(and I am NOT a H1-B holder for sure) that the U.S. government is the smartest government in the World(Phoobah may not agree to that but is fine, due to that he sounds not happy anyway) after dealing and comparing with 2 other famous governments on two sides of the extremes(Canadian and Chinese), I knew in personal experience that how nice, how generous, and, how smart the U.S government is compare to many other governments you may have dealt or not(so people, do not make complains on uncle Sam anymore, please). You think this smart government would allow so many H1-Bs get into this country without a good reason a and a good study before congress make a decision? America indeed needs a lot of intelligent, educated people to fuel the continuous growth of our economy. Furthermore, as the other reader has wrote, we are in an immigration country, the greatest immigration country in the world. We should treat everybody equal and juge them on their abilities rather than on whose grandparents arrive here first.

The downturn is temporay, growth is forever! Cheers!

realoptics 12/4/2012 | 7:43:51 PM
re: Foreign Workers Sit Tight "They should be the FIRST to be let go in a layoff, just like consultants" Why?? Can you give other readers a sounding reason?

I fully agree with the other reader, LeCastor71, why they have to be the first? If they are good enough,the H1-B process will get them in, if they are not good, they should even not be here at first place, I do not think the companies would be stupid enough to get somebody far way and tehy are not filling the needs of teh companies. In term of layoff evryboday should be treated equal and base on their merit to the jobs they are holding.

In my humble opinion(and I am NOT a H1-B holder for sure) that the U.S. government is the smartest government in the World(Phoobah may not agree to that but is fine, due to that he sounds not happy anyway) after dealing and comparing with 2 other famous governments on two sides of the extremes(Canadian and Chinese), I knew in personal experience that how nice, how generous, and, how smart the U.S government is compare to many other governments you may have dealt or not(so people, do not make complains on uncle Sam anymore, please). You think this smart government would allow so many H1-Bs get into this country without a good reason a and a good study before congress make a decision? America indeed needs a lot of intelligent, educated people to fuel the continuous growth of our economy. Furthermore, as the other reader has wrote, we are in an immigration country, the greatest immigration country in the world. We should treat everybody equal and juge them on their abilities rather than on whose grandparents arrive here first.

The downturn is temporay, growth is forever! Cheers!

LeCastor71 12/4/2012 | 7:43:51 PM
re: Foreign Workers Sit Tight Hey s.o.l,

I'm Australian. But I learned French & speak it because I choose to integrate in whatever country I'm living and working in. I've lived in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US and Xenophobia exists in all of them, thankfully less than in the past. Welcome to the "new world order"...

-LC71

optnet 12/4/2012 | 7:43:50 PM
re: Foreign Workers Sit Tight It is really sad to analyze and conclude on just
LUCENT example of H1B layoffs. Most of the LUCENT first time layoffs are in Manufacturing in which H1B's are almost very very low. I believe lot of H1B people in Engineering depts. have got affected a lot in most of the bit companies like NORTEL/Cicsco...etc and start-ups. I myself personally know lot of people who got affected by this down turn and some of them left already country and some wants to try their luck for some more time. I have been hearing from some of the friends saying employers are not interested right now in recruiting H1Bs.

So, i think article does not cover the realistic scenario of present industry.
hitecheer 12/4/2012 | 7:43:49 PM
re: Foreign Workers Sit Tight
H1B workers can not speak English as well as you can, so what? They know C++ better than you, and they won't make such f'cking asshole comments as you did.

It is just low to laugh at foreigner's English skills. Maybe you have nothing else to compete with them.
generalcharlesdegaulle 12/4/2012 | 7:43:49 PM
re: Foreign Workers Sit Tight The American immigration/employment systems is
the best in the world....uncomparable to any
other...it is the reason to why this country is
the premiere advanced civilization today.....
their motto is simply..."Take the world's best,
and if they want, make them American..."
Von Braun, Einstein, others....all were taken
in this way.....times are rough, and it is
easy to point fingers...but reason should
prevail...lets not let tempers fly here...things
will get better, so dont knock the H1B program...
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