Remember the heady days of the cyber boom in America? Back in the 1990s, when half the world was flocking to the Silicon Valley and its clones around the United States-Indians, Malayasians, Israelis, Europeans, Canadians, I dare say even a Nepali or two.
In those crazy, long lost days, nearly 200,000 professional, highly educated foreigners were welcomed into the United States every year to fuel its amazing high tech economy. That number was set by Congress and it was much, much lower than Internet entrepreneurs and people like Bill Gates wanted.
The H1-B visa became a holy grail for the engineering and electronic graduates of the world. It was a work permit that allowed a company to seek out its expertise abroad because American colleges couldn't provide enough quality of quantity to keep the software profits flowing. An advanced post graduate degree from one of the lofty Indian schools like IIT or IIM was a guaranteed H1-B and a top job in California.
Then came September 11th, 2001. Even though the technology boom had busted by then, demand for high quality foreigners had continued. American companies knew what they wanted. But Congress, which in the American democracy controls immigration numbers, reacted to the horrific attacks by cutting visa numbers by more than half. Never mind that the Al Qaeda killers didn't have H1-B's. Tamil Brahmin engineers and South African code writers had to pay the price.
Now the US issues just 65,000 of the vaunted hi tech visas every year. The quota for 2005 was opened this past week, at the beginning of October.
And was exhausted in a single day. A single day! That's how much American companies and foreign workers still want to connect. Companies like Microsoft and IBM are raising hell, demanding that more talented folk from abroad are a good thing for America.
Some are pointing out, accurately, that if US companies can't hire the talent it wants, then the jobs themselves will leave. Indian firms like Infosys and Tata Consultancies have already taken over tens of thousands of American jobs by providing quality offshore services in India. Needless to say the cost is a fraction of what it would be in America. Infosys and its highly competent fellow companies in south India, the back office entrepreneurs of Gurgaon and Mumbai, these are the winners when America slashes visas.
You could take this a step further by arguing that far from protecting the United States, restricting the number of job visas actually makes enemies for the country. Someone well educated but under employed in their homeland is more like to hate America than an engineer toiling in the white heat of the American dream.
For the record, I don't need an H1-B visa to do my work in America. Nor would I qualify because I'm not well educated enough. But many millions of people in Asia, Europe and Latin America are. And they deserve better than to see their dreams dashed in a single day