We lose when graduates are told to hit the road

May 20, 2009

John Chen has served as chairman, chief executive officer and president of Sybase, Inc. since 1998. All views are his own.

chenAs I watched the news showing President Obama reaching out to University of Notre Dame graduates eager to shake his hand, I was impressed by the coalition of colors and nationalities in the faces all round the President that says much good about the United States. I also wondered who, among those shaking President Obama’s hand, will be told by an immigration official next week, ”Congratulations, graduate. Now hit the road, leave the U.S., go home!”

When that happens, if it hasn’t already happened to thousands of graduates across the country, the U.S. will be the loser.

The fact is that at commencement time, foreign science and engineering graduates from U.S. universities are itching to stay in America, especially at this time, and put their energy into the most valuable work. This would eventually help us recover economically and go on to thrive as an innovative world trading powerhouse.

Instead, they’ll be told we don’t want their intelligence and their problem-solving skills, or their innovative or entrepreneurial abilities. They’re told to just go back to where they came from — go back to India, to China, to Brazil, to Russia, and to all the other places that we compete with for wealth around the world.

These aren’t queue-jumping immigrants, or illegals trying to outwit border guards. They’re professionals, some with doctorates or masters’ degrees, who observe the rules. U.S. companies want to employ them. Unfortunately, they get lumped in with the general, anti-immigrant bias that cycles through Congress at times like these. and mocks the legal immigration system.

These foreign talent wanted to utilized our H1-B program that allows U.S. companies to hire a limited number of highly skilled foreign workers for the short-term or as a first step to a green card or permanent residence. Every April 1, U.S. corporations—from financial to high-tech firms—file petitions to hire these individuals under the H1-B terms.

We absolutely need H1-B immigrants for what they bring to our economy. I work in the Silicon Valley and the presence of foreign-born entrepreneurs has undeniably been a catalyst for taking the technology industry to a new level. Google founder Sergey Brin is from Russia, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang from Taiwan, and Intel co-founder Andy Grove from Hungary.

More than 50 percent of high-tech workers in Silicon Valley are foreign born, according to the Silicon Valley Index, an industry publication. Many of these immigrants go on to become entrepreneurs. In the 10 years to 2005, more than half of new tech companies had foreign-born founders.

The National Foundation for American Policy keeps estimates showing that for each H1-B visa, U.S. corporations hire five additional workers. This is not taking jobs from Americans, which is what we hear from labor unions.  We’re actually creating jobs by bringing bright people into this country.

High-tech companies know this, of course, and we gained valuable support in early May when Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, told the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress: “I know it’s not very popular to say, but our immigration laws discriminate pretty heavily against talented scientists and engineers from other countries. If you allow more people with high-tech skills to come here, you’d get more innovation and more growth,” Bernanke said.

Not only do we lose in our domestic economy by turning away this huge resource of talent, but we lose in another perhaps even more significant way. Tighter rules and continuing traces of the 9/11 worries about foreigners distort the smart power of our foreign policy that we can use internationally. Reasoned persuasion is a key ingredient of smart power, together with trade deals, foreign aid, diplomacy and cultural influences such as movies and music. We need to boost the persuasiveness of our case by being smarter about keeping talent educated at our great universities, often subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, at a time when we need it most.

By singling out work visa immigrants, we are setting a bad example internationally.  That’s true also when we indulge in trade protectionism.  You can be sure such activities will trigger a round of retaliation throughout the world.  And look what damage we will do to ourselves.

We risk our foreign direct investments of $2.1 trillion.  We risk the market access for more than 2,000 multinational corporations, whose parent companies in the U.S. make up a quarter of our private sector output. We put into jeopardy U.S.-owned foreign assets abroad totaling $18 trillion. Can we afford it?


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We ought to staple a green card inside the diploma of every foreign student graduating with an undergraduate engineering degree and EVERY Master’s and Doctorate graduate.

Further, US needs to boost number of its own graduating with technical 4-yr (and for that matter 2-yr technician) degrees. With only 77,000 engineering Bachelor degrees awarded each year- we cannot even replace the baby boomer retirees each year- let alone stay ahead of countries like China (200,000 eng degrees/yr) India and Russia.

Posted by Art | Report as abusive

If the US is spending the money to educate foreigners, then, by all means we should try to retain them after graduation. (and FYI, most graduate programs in engineering and biosciences are partially or fully funded, I’m getting paid to get my PhD). However, I don’t think it is necessarily a fundamental problem with our immigration policies (although they do need to be revamped). Most of the people I know who WANT to stay in the US after graduation haven’t had a problem doing so. It’s all paperwork, and timing. Intern, make connections, find a job before graduation (be reasonably prepared) + get paperwork turned in early = stay in US. The problem is that alot of graduates want to go home. I’d say 50% of the people I am in graduate school with want to return to their own country. The US should be more proactive in their efforts to retain these people… however, at the same time, these efforts should be balanced. The US doesn’t produce many domestically born engineers and scientist, so efforts to keep foreign graduates should not decrease the ability of Americans to get jobs.

Posted by Katie | Report as abusive

If there are no jobs for these new graduates, won’t they just add to the unemployment rolls if they are just handed a green card? How does higher unemployment benefit this economy?

Posted by Logical Thinker | Report as abusive

Alan Brittenham said: “…Think about the implications of such an idea… no border guards, because of no borders…”

Why don’t we erase all criminal laws from the books too. If murder, theft, rape etc. are no longer crimes, we would now have a crime free society. What say you?

Posted by Dennis Matthews | Report as abusive

We do not have nearly enough employment to absorb all the college graduates now. For each position available there are at least ten qualified U.S. workers available and willing. Why on earth would we increase the glut of workers at a time of massive layoffs of skilled and educated native workers. Have you all gone mad?

Posted by Kelly | Report as abusive

Cheap labor propaganda! 500,000 H-1Bs have American jobs while Americans are unemployed. 45,000 plus 20,000 American jobs are reserved until October 1 when H-1Bs will fill them.

We absolutely NO NOT need the H-1B. Google was started as Larry Page’s dissertation project. Page was born in Michigan, educated at Stanford. He was joined by his friend and fellow PhD student Serge Brin who was born in Moscow and raised in the USA since age 6. Yahoo was started by David Filo born in Wisconsin, educated at Stanford and Jerry Yang, born in Taipei, raised in San Jose since age 8 and educated in the USA at Stanford. Andy Grove was not an Intel co-founder he was an early employee. His contribution was mainly as a businessperson, not as an engineer. Andy Grove came here as a refugee from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. All of these people would have been here even if the H-1B had never been invented.

The National Foundation for American Policy is Stuart Anderson, a long-time lobbyist and activist in favor of a liberal H-1B program. Anderson began these activities by writing pro-H-1B articles for Jack Kemp’s Empower America, then for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. He also was the author of the 1997 study by the ITAA, the industry lobbying group, that convinced Congress to enact the first expansion of the H-1B program in 1998. He then went to work for then-Senator Spencer Abraham, in which job Anderson authored the 2000 legislation which expanded the H-1B program

Posted by n6532l | Report as abusive

Mr. Chen,

What study are you citing when you say: “In the 10 years to 2005, more than half of new tech companies had foreign-born founders.”?

Also, your statement, “Instead, they’ll be told we don’t want their intelligence and their problem-solving skills, or their innovative or entrepreneurial abilities. They’re told to just go back to where they came from.” is just preposterously untrue, isn’t it. You know darned well about the 2-year OPT visa that almost all foreign graduates of U.S. universities can obtain, don’t you. If you don’t you have not done your homework and should retract the article until your introduction has some shred of knowledge behind it.

Posted by William | Report as abusive

Is this guy some industrial spy from China? We already ARE losing – thanks to 10 years of importing MILLIONS of guest workers on H-1B. If these imported workers are so smart and brilliant then why are Americans TRAINING them? 10 years of guest workers have brought economic collapse to America. As someone who worked in Silicon Valley for 17 years I have seen the lies firsthand.

These workers are coming in by the millions, exporting out cash and technology, and then going home to COMPETE AGAINST us. How does bringing in and training a FOREIGN workforce help the U.S.? It doesn’t it helps COMPETITOR NATIONS.

Posted by Bobo | Report as abusive

I think all H1B Visas should be stopped immediately and discontinued after the last holder heads home. I personally gave up on high tech when you could outsource for a lot less than I was making. Either do the research here or overseas or both but no one from overseas should be allowed anymore than a short visa perhaps a month at best per year. The holders of these Visas are at the mercy of the company sposoring them which is bad enough but to continually say we don’t have the talent while thousands are continually let go to accommodate these people is ridiculous. Write you representatives to stop this practice. This is good for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

Posted by Mike Reno | Report as abusive

Instead of blaming American education for not preparing students properly, and for not encouraging minorities and women to enter the engineering field, why not look at the real reason students no longer want to enter this field—no job prospects. With American engineers and computer programmers no longer able to compete against a huge influx of cheaper imported labor via H-1B and L-1 work visas, and with many more high-tech jobs going “offshore,” it’s simple economics. Students do not want to invest many thousands of dollars studying in a field for which there are no job prospects.

Me and my IT colleagues lost our programming jobs when our company imported programmers and made the Americans train them in order to receive severance. The company posted LCA sheets as required by law, and thus, we learned that the visiting programmers are earning about half of their American counterparts. Whenever I contact my elected representatives, the Dept. of Labor and the Dept. of Commerce about this, their shoddy excuse is that Americans aren’t educated enough or prepared enough or smart enough to do high tech. But I’m not surprised. That’s what the corporations and the media tell them.

1) These are Temporary (Guest) Worker Visas and NOT IMMIGRANT VISAS
2) They are paid the same wage as Americans, they are paid about 12,000 or more less
than their American counterparts
3) They are just average programmers and in fact some of them are incompetent
4) There is no labor shortage with millions of highly skilled Americans and Permanent Residents unemployed.
Hire local it’s the American thing to do.

Greedy Companies use them to replace Americans with:

1) Cheap Foreign workers – These companies don’t want to pay the prevailing wage.
2) Younger Foreign Workers – Those over 35 are discriminated because of their age.

Hire Americans and Permanent Residents. Help America.
Yet another sellout of the American worker, just so a few executives can make a few more million.

Hiring or continuing to employ an H1B worker (or any other VISA) in the US in our current time of crisis is un-American.

Posted by debug | Report as abusive

With millions of Americans unemployed we don\\\’t need guest workers. All these lies about shortage of skills are just pure lies. There are unemployed Americans qualified for the jobs. I know a couple of American RN graduates that cannot find a job.

In this economy and Americans needing jobs, it is very Un American not to hire local.

Send these guest workers home and America will be better. We have lived and had higher standards of living before NAFTA and these Temporary Guest Worker Visas. STOP THE GREED OF COMPANIES THAT DON\’T WANT TO PAY PREVAILING WAGES instead displace Americans with cheap foreign labor.

Posted by UnemployedAmerican | Report as abusive

SOCIALIST programs like the H-1B american worker replacement program have one common result. By artificially lowering the price of a commodity you discourage production. (More H1-B’s = lower pay = less americans entering field)

The vast majority of these cheap imported workers go to a handfull of large bodyshops like Wipro, Tata, and Infosys that undercut American workers and are used to FACILITATE off-shoring through knowledge transfer(American workers train foreign workers to allow off shoring).

H-1B program is a poster child for FRAUD, with recipients PAYING for jobs, falsifying credentials, or just plain lying to clients, and employers.

The program in inherently sexist(almost %100 Indian male under 30) racist(Indian bodyshops do not hire Europeans Africans Americans etc) and ageist(what other field are you to old to hire at 35?)

The constant barrage of falsehoods, outdated or incorrect statistic, biased studies, propaganda and lies from the corporate lobbyists and special interests who have agendas contrary to the good of the USA and its citizens is starting to show itself for what it is, TREASON.

Posted by patriot | Report as abusive

Ask yourself –

Protecting the middleclass is not protectionism its being Patriotic.

Which one would you rather give a job to:
An American Student that just graduated from our college
or a Foreigner that went to school here and just graduate from our colleges.

Help Americans get jobs first. Its the American thing to do.

Posted by OnlyInAmerica | Report as abusive

Unfortunately we all lose when hiring is economics-based rather than qualification-based.

Millions of qualified U. S. citizens have also been told to ‘hit the road’ as their jobs have been taken from them and given to cheaper foreign workers. Millions more refrain from even seeking better jobs and better education because they cannot compete with their lower-paid foreign counterparts.

I’ve seen both sides of the issue, bacically because we found we needed to retain qualified foreign workers who had proven their ‘mettle’ via student internships. The system years ago was to issue a ‘help wanted ad’ via a Federal agency, with specific qualifications listed. More often than not, those ‘boiler plate’ qualifications were superfluous, rigged in favor of that applicant.

Unfortunately, history proves to be a pendulum, with extreme polarization of trends. Currently, that trend is highly in favor of both importation of cheap foreign labor and global ‘outsourcing’.

Quota-based systems do not work. Quota-based systems impose reverse discrimination. Yet quota-based systems have been our only ‘stop-gap’ tactics yet devised.

I wish our employment policies would favor the ‘best and brightest’, regardless of country of origin, but that will not happen as long as the ‘bean counters’ are motivated solely by factors of cost.

Posted by Bernie | Report as abusive

John Chen drove Sybase into the ground and should be quiet. He is hardly the type of “genius” we have to import.

The truth is that the H-1B was used as a back door to import hundreds of thousands (65k+/yr * 10+yrs) of low-wage (and in I.T, pretty low-skill) mostly Indian visa workers. Many were exploited by their Indian bodyshoppers. There was NEVER a word about that from NASSCOM or Duke Prof. Vivek Whadha, NASSCOM’s shill in residence.

But all of the sudden, they acknowledge the corruption and abuse of their fellow Indians, and act like they care.

And this sordid outsourcing program has impacted 3-4 million American hi-tech professionals. Some have been forced totally out of the industry. Many have have seen their wages decline. Some have been forced to train their Indian replacement.

It is sad chapter in the history of United States business — and one day the journalists, corporate execs, politicians, professors, and lobbyists that helped facilitate this legal discrimination of Americans will hold their head in shame.

H1B is all about corporate greed. Most of my friends who are Computer Science graduates of U.C. Berkeley, Stanford, M.I.T. have now left the I.T. industry because we cannot find jobs in our fields due to H1B. It’s a disincentive to a new generation of American students to pursue a science and engineering careers.

People are posting comments here to support H1B are spreading lies. For example, this guy “Howard,” who said:

“specially true in the medical fields where there is a shortage in the US but an over abundance of highly qualified nurses in countries like the Philippines.”

Yeah, right, even the doctors in Philippines are eager to become nurses so they can enter the U.S. as H1B nurses. With the H1B program, the U.S. is raping the Philippines of its desperately needed medical people because all of them want to leave the Philippines. Check this Frontline documentary “Philippines: Have Degree, Will Travel Where have all the nurses gone?” out and see for yourself and see who is telling LIES:

http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/ 2007/12/philippines_hav.html

Posted by Unemployed Engineer in Silicon Valley | Report as abusive

Take my word for it it’s not easy for foreign students or workers to get a job in China or India or get any student or public aid. That BA degree from China or India is not equal to that of the BA from most American schools. You will learn engineering from ITT in India but you will not learn anout culture and civilization as you will at MIT in America. If you wish to do real research from the best technical minds in the world the West and Japan is where you must go – not to India or China.

Posted by doublecross | Report as abusive

We must ask what else do workers bring to America besides work? There is a dark side that no one wishes to talk about it’s called elder dumping or spouse dumping. You see it when parents have out lived their usefullness due to age and illness or a spouse in divorce court. Suddenly tax payers must care for a spouse with under age kids or the cost of care for a senior who happens to be the parent of a very talented tech worker trained at MIT or Stanford or ITT.

Posted by doublecross | Report as abusive

Yes, we lose when executives like Chen turn their backs on US citizens.

And we lose when US knowledge and research methods are transferred over-seas.

We should cut the numbers of student visas, and set higher standards for all visas.

The reason there are so many foreign grad students in STEM fields is because of the explosive increase in student visas, the availability of OPT, and the existence of vast numbers of work visas. NSF knew, in the mid-1980s, that these would drive down compensation and opportunities for US STEM workers, and, by altering financial incentives, reduce the numbers who entered graduate programs.

“A growing influx of foreign PhDs into U.S. labor markets will hold down the level of PhD salaries to the extent that foreign students are attracted to U.S. doctoral programs as a way of immigrating to the U.S.A. A related point is that for this group the PhD salary premium is much higher [than it is for Americans], because it is based on BS-level pay in students’ home nations versus PhD-level pay in the U.S.A… [If] doctoral studies are failing to appeal to a large (or growing) percentage of the best citizen baccalaureates, then a key issue is pay… A number of [the Americans] will select alternative career paths… For these baccalaureates, the effective premium for acquiring a PhD may actually be negative.”
http://www.nber.org/~peat/PapersFolder/P apers/SG/NSF.html
http://www.nber.org/~peat/ReadingsFolder  /PrimarySources/TimeLine.html
Policy and Research Analysis Division of the NSF
http://www.ucop.edu/ucophome/pres/commen ts/numbers.html

Posted by jgo | Report as abusive

As a US software engineer a few years out of college, I would recommend any young American thinking about a degree in the sciences or technology to RECONSIDER. There are no jobs for you in the US market; My first job after university was working in India for one of the largest offshoring companies in the world. We Americans simply cannot compete with these third world workers as the cost of living in India is drastically lower than here in the US.

The number of ‘proud’ US companies with huge offshoring centers in India is staggering, and will only increase as these companies continue to cut budgets in order to pad the bonuses of those at the top. Furthermore, even those jobs that require onsite employees will be filled by cheap H1B/L1 visa holders from the third world. Realize that wages in IT/Science have plummeted nearly 20% in just the last 5 years, and will continue since Congress will do absolutely nothing to stop this.

Take my advice: do not go into debt studying engineering/science. You’d be better off getting into the plumbing/mechanic business as they cannot be offshored, nor will you be competing with the cheapest world labor US CEO’s can import.

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive