Bob Miano's Blog

An Executive journal

Responsible Staffing vs. Cut and Run

Earlier this month I was in Washington, DC meeting lawmakers from both parties in Congress as part of the annual TechServe Alliance Lobby Day. During our visit we talked with senior staff members of elected representatives about the importance of advancing excellence and ethics within the IT staffing and solutions industry.

he supply of technology skills

What might surprise you about the initial conversations I had with members from both parties in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives is how much they agreed with us. For example, everyone seemed to recognize the importance of technology skills and creative innovation to the future and the health of the American economy.

Also, no-one disagreed that having more highly trained young Americans graduating from colleges with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills would strengthen our economy well into the 21st Century. Or, that creating a pipeline of talent will take time when only 18 percent of American college students are pursuing STEM degrees.

However, when I spoke to lawmakers about how the H-1B visa program can help supply technology skills to fulfil American organizational needs, there were disappointing, and frankly misinformed, political responses. Clearly, our presence in trying to dispel some of these misconceptions made our visit well worth the effort.

Miscategorising the H-1B visa

Our visit to Capitol Hill, however, came at an unusual time. Recently, there have been stories widely circulated in the media about the U.S. Department of Labor's investigating two Indian-based IT services firms for alleged abuses of the H-1B visa program. In parallel, the LA Times reported that utility provider, Southern California Edison, planned to lay off IT workers and replace them with outsourced employees from India. Unfortunately, there is a tendency by some individuals, busy with a host of issues, to lump the entire issue of H-1B visa issues into one lump, not discerning how the program has been flagrantly misused in some instances. I found that these news articles were doing more to shape the opinions of politicians on the H-1B visa issue than offering real insight from actual job creators.

Those of us who have built careers in the staffing industry know there's a huge difference between a highly skilled H-1B candidate working onshore to supplement an American team and a low cost worker brought to the United States to replace an existing American worker. Harvey Nash and responsible staffing peers of fellow TechServe Alliance members do not displace American workers. We recruit H-1B candidates specifically to fill job openings that simply can't be filled locally because the skill is so limited and can't be found.

Responsible staffing

Responsible staffing providers could not be more different from the 'cut-and-run' outsourcing firms who seek to make a profit by undermining American workers and arbitraging labor to low-cost, low-skill destinations. American contractors may feel bitter about H1-B workers because they think that companies hire H-1Bs to save money by replacing domestic talent with lower cost contractors. However, in reality, often there is no real cost benefit to the client from using a 'cut-and-run' outsourcing firm because despite H-1B workers being paid less, third party visa 'support' costs often drive the price back up.

As America enters its most politicized time, a presidential election, those of us in the American recruiting industry are in real danger of being denigrated alongside the worst of the low-budget outsourcers and cast as a threat to the American worker. Yet quite the opposite is true. It is our government that is compounding the technology skills supply problem by limiting the number of H-1B visas based on demand.

This past year there were over 230,000 H-1B visa applicants (remember these are American companies applying to fill a role with an identified highly skilled candidate), and only 65,000 H-1B skilled work visas were approved due to an arbitrary cap. What do the American companies do when 165,000 specialized roles can't be filled with skilled Americans or H-1B candidates? They outsource and many executives make the decision to offshore their work to foreign locations whereby the tax revenue and consumer demand that would have been generated by H1B's working on American soil are forfeited.

What can be done?

My U.S. staffing teams and I work for an American company and our goal is to meet American talent demand in order to be competitive in the global economy. The hard truth is that American companies need more IT skills today than we can supply.

Until our high schools and colleges produce more STEM graduates, we should not waste the skills and resources of highly skilled H-1B candidates who in a short-term and specialized manner can meet the demand of American businesses. Unless the government raises the H-1B cap, the worst of the offshore providers will continue to prosper, at least in the short term, because they claim to meet that demand.

If you work for a responsible recruiting firm that, like Harvey Nash, does not displace American workers, please contact your elected representatives and inform them that the H-1B visa program is too important to the future of the American economy to be lost within the immigration debate.

It is our duty as recruiting companies to ensure our clients can acquire the highly skilled workers needed to staff their labs and their offices right here in America so they can compete on a level playing field in the global economy.