Why I support the Border Security Bill

Much has been said about the newly enacted Border Security Bill in the US (HR 6080 – PDF). At its core, the purpose of the bill (now law) is to provide monies for funding existing and upcoming objectives of the DHS (including USCIS), DOJ, and the Judicial system pertaining to the southwestern border of the United States.

It sounds really simple in intention, except that it really isn’t. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Charles Schumer (Democrat NY) states that it is beneficial to the country because it ‘Would Hike Fees On Personnel Companies That Exploit U.S. Visa Laws’. Wait, what?

Before I state my reasons for supporting this bill, I would like the discuss the exploitation Schumer talks about. The H1-B/L1 visa categories are particularly controversial, in part because they are both what are known as ‘dual intent’ visas. This means that any H1-B/L1 visa holder is allowed under US immigration law to seek a path towards permanent residency in the country. Why this complicates the entire debate – they are both mandated to ‘temporarily employ foreign workers’ in specialty occupations. According to Schumer, ‘It will also avoid adding to the deficit by raising fees on a handful of foreign corporations that abuse U.S. visa programs to import workers from India.’ So, it is clear – the bill’s primary target is Indian IT companies, namely Infosys, Wipro, TCS, and Mahindra Satyam. All these companies are also responsible for the majority of American offshored work as well. So, where is the exploitation? It is clear that the companies bring foreign workers to the US temporarily for a specific work project and for a specific client. Of course, owing to the aforementioned dual intent provision, these temporary workers are free to obtain permanent residency in the US, too, but few do. I bet this mostly due to the contractual nature of such an engagement.

The exploitation Schumer refers to could be the fact that these Indian companies are what are called ‘H1-B dependent’ companies. Simply stated, these are companies with 15% or more employees on an H1-B. These companies pay extra for this ‘privilege’ come time to apply for an H1-B. They also have to provide an attestation that they made ‘good faith’ efforts to hire Americans and that no American jobs would be lost as a result. But wait, there’s a rider. If the company hires workers with a master’s degree or pays them above a threshold salary, they aren’t required to attest anything, not that it’s genuinely easy to find qualified software engineers in the US.

So, please don’t give these companies a bad name. They are not exploiting any visa laws. At best, they are exploiting America’s global push for open markets at open labor rates.

Now, onto why I support this controversial bill, irrespective of the absurdity surrounding penalizing legal immigrants to keep illegal immigration in check. These are my points:

1. This is a good reminder that there are great opportunities elsewhere. USA is the world’s biggest importer, but there are tremendous opportunities in other parts of the world. Infosys, please start bidding on Indian projects as well.

2. This bill is no doubt the harbinger of a greater push towards immigration reform during this presidential term. Schumer has long been a proponent of meaningful immigration leading to a speedy path towards permanent residency. This bill lays the groundwork for such reform. It’s time to tell the world that America would rather import talent permanently than send it back.

3. This is the biggest reason – the bill inherently kills the ‘desi consultant’ business inside the US. These are the real culprits. Basically, these are small time body shops that work at the third or even fourth tier of the consulting business, are almost always owned by first generation Indian permanent residents with another primary source of income, have no business plan, are really H1-B dependent, and have no code of ethics. There are various reasons why someone would join such a company. For most, it’s the easiest path to getting an H1-B (and subsequently legal residence) after completing education in the US. With this new law, such companies would have to shell out extra for every new H1-B petition. This eats into the already meager margins at which these shady companies do business. But, the topic of small consulting companies deserves another blog post of its own.

4. Speaking as someone who earned two graduate degrees from a top American university, I wholeheartedly support any measure that provides confidence to American students that engineering degrees are good and that there is going to a be a job available for them when they graduate. This leads to the much greater issue in my opinion, that of regulating US Inc. such that while global talent and liberal immigration is welcome, steps ought to be taken to ensure a level playing field for people born in the country. It’s not their fault that everything is cheaper abroad. Almost every developed country has such protective measures in place. America should, too. Too bad it would need political might to rein in capitalism.

America is lucky to have a very active immigration debate in this day and age when every other country is on its toes to recruit talent globally. People want to move to America for a better life, better future, and for freedom to take risks that they couldn’t back home. I can only hope that something good comes out of bills like HR 6080. In the interim, I am confident that these steps would lay a strong groundwork towards making comprehensive immigration reform a more welcome agenda in the minds of Americans and would-be immigrants alike.

Cheers!

Dad’s Interview on BBC World

My dad’s very brief interview on the competency of the State owned BSNL in the face of increasing competition from newer private telecom operators was featured on BBC World’s weekly ‘India Business Report’ program.

Fast forward to the 40 second marker for the actual interview.

Of course, since it was meant to be only a segment in the 30 minute program, the entire half an hour long interview could not be included, but was used as a build-up for the story.

Next goal – Me on CNN Business!

Age and Competition

It’s not uncommon to run into a blog belonging to a very young software whizz these days and just not being amazed at how kids these days are able to get up to speed with what took us ages. Of course, this sort of generational gap is always going to exist. As we advance our knowledge of science and technology, the baseline for mere awareness is only going to keep rising. For example, a few decades ago, calculus was an advanced topic, but now it is a staple ingredient in the Mathematics curriculum of an average middle school student.

The point of this post is to mull over how age and experience really play a role in how you look at these things. For example, I saw this site today. It belongs to a passionate 18 year old open source software developer who is most probably a college student. From a technical standpoint, he is definitely more than qualified to do the jobs of some very experienced people I have met. He is on the cutting edge of his technical spectrum, so to speak. When I was growing up and in college, I was like that, too. I used to work on websites as a hobby, write interesting C programs in my summers, and just generally mess around with a lot of software code. With the rise of the Internet, though, it has become all too easy, and sometimes expected of you, to showcase your passion and talent for the rest of the world. This is an example of the raised threshold/baseline I mentioned earlier. So, is the kid exceptional? In comparison to some other peers in college, sure, but being on the cutting edge and passionate is expected from you. When you are grown up, this is how you look at it.

When you’re 18 years old, you just want to do things because they’re fun, and not because you realize that being passionate is ultimately going to help your overall perception of your future career. Youngsters these days have this wonderful opportunity to be taken seriously, to be able to start open source projects that have the potential to be used by a lot of people, to be able to contribute in the same vein as other more experienced people, thanks to the Internet. So, for someone like me, while it was considered exceptional to just be passionate about programming languages or writing hobby programs, I think the bar has been raised quite a bit in the last two decades.

So, do you compete with these youngsters? Feel threatened? No.

These are just signs that the technology landscape is changing so quickly, and that is very good. What we could do, though, is align our passion with theirs and create synergies that would ultimately advance future technologies.

नमस्ते !

अभी अभी पता चला कि OSX में हिन्दी में लिखना कितना अासान है। यह पूरी एन्ट्री मेरे साधारण कीबोर्ड के द्वारा लिखी गयी है।

इतना अासान होगा कभी सोचा न था!

– सौरभ

2008 is here

The year 2008 is here, finally. Even though a lot of significant things happened in 2007, here’s how I would remember it:

1. India got her first female President.
2. Television got some really great new shows.
3. The US still tried to force-feed its way of life and governance to countries worldwide, only at the cost of national pride, credibility, and the economy.
4. Lots of school shootings, including one in India.
5. The resurgence of Apple Inc. as a dominant force in the computing industry.
6. The year of the iPhone. (This needed special mention)
7. India got some leeway from the insurgency efforts of neighboring Pakistan, who was busy trying to clean its own mess.
8. The job market actually improved a lot.
9. USCIS messed up and people got their GCs in record time for a month.
10. The year it started being really cool to be an Indian.

And then:

1. The year I changed my attitude towards people and ideas.
2. The year I realized I could do anything I wanted.
3. The year that actually made me a whole lot wiser.
4. The year I got rid of the mildew on my friends list.
5. The year I added a tame 19,000 miles to my car’s odometer.

I am sure there’s more I could think of, but this is all my sleep-deprived-shindig-stricken mind could come up with this early Tuesday morning.

Have a Wonderful New Year ’08 !

10 years ago: Then and now

I was thinking how much things have changed in the last 10 years. We now live in an increasingly connected society, at least from a technological point of view. Yet, at the same time, there are things that haven’t changed at all. We still have the middle east crisis. We’re still fighting hunger and poverty, and we’re still in search of a new source of energy!

10 years ago:

  1. I was trying to get in a good college.
  2. My primary computer was a desktop PC running Windows 95. The processor was 66Mhz Pentium.
  3. I was experimenting with Linux in a big way.
  4. I did not have an Internet connection at home.
  5. I used to dial in to a few BBS’ across the world.
  6. I was excited about being able to finally have a cable TV connection at home.
  7. I was a computer “whiz-kid”.
  8. I couldn’t cook to save my life.
  9. I wanted to grow up to be an engineer working for the Indian Government.
  10. I never thought I would move to a distant country.

Now, things that have remained unchanged:

  1. The Simpsons is still the longest running prime-time animated series.
  2. Human cloning is still banned.
  3. Tony Blair is still the Prime Minister of Britain (although he’s retiring on June 27th).
  4. India’s President is still from the minorities.
  5. Toyota Prius is still quite a buzzword.
  6. The middle east is still strife-torn.
  7. The space race is still on, albeit between the West and the rest of the world.

The joys of living in a democracy

Yesterday was election day in the US, something that happens every 2 years. The responsibility of electing representatives to the 435 House seats as well as 33 out of 100 Senate seats was given to the public today. As I sit here watching the Democratic party take control of the House for the first time in around 14 years, I find the election coverage very familiar.

There’s the usual reporting of live precincts, live interviews, the usual anxiety, and the usual rejoicing by the winners. I am a big fan of the statistics and graphical analysis, and it seems that not much is different in the way newscasters and reporters function in India and the US.

Now, if only I could vote in this country…