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America needs more skilled IT workers. Or does it?

There's a chasm cutting through the IT job market, according to a BusinessWeek story.

Technology workers say they can't find enough good jobs, while tech companies say they can't find enough skilled workers--and they're pushing for immigration reforms for access to more high-skilled workers from abroad.

According to the story:

Employers point out that the unemployment rate in the sector is extremely low, a mere 1.8% in the second quarter of this year. Workers counter that salaries in the sector are still below their level in 2000, adjusted for inflation, a sign that companies haven't had to bid up wages to get staff.

Before this chasm becomes a canyon, something needs to be done. But what?

It's Time to Shake Things Up

As the BusinessWeek story suggests, something needs to change--but the issues are complex, and the fix won't be simple.

Congress is expected to take action, especially as companies and immigrant workers push for reforms:

The Senate and House of Representatives are considering whether to try to overhaul the immigration policies for high-skilled workers. The question is whether there's a way to help U.S. tech companies recruit the talent they need to stay competitive, while also easing American workers' anxiety. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chair of the House subcommittee on immigration whose district includes Silicon Valley, says "there is a greater willingness to move forward on immigration reform" (BusinessWeek.com, 9/11/07).

But I'm skeptical of Congress doing what's best. The story points out:

While the differences among tech workers are growing as jobs become more specialized, public policy hasn't kept up. For one popular visa, known as an H-1B, any worker from overseas with an undergraduate degree qualifies. There's no need to try to hire an American first or demonstrate that such workers are in short supply. In addition, the visas are doled out to the first companies that ask for them, not those most important to the U.S. economy.

Our federal legislators aren't the most efficient or trustworthy bunch. They collect handsome salaries and sterling benefits, but congressmen typically aren't held accountable for such lapses as policy failing to keep pace with technology trends. But they should be, and it's up to us--the taxpayers, the voters--to keep them on task.

The solution to the tech-worker impasse involves a trifecta, including the media, politicians, and voters. The media should stop wasting time and money on scandalous stories about Congressman So-and-So's latest sexual exploits, and pay more attention to critical issues like tech policy, immigration and the labor market. Politicians, particularly those on Capitol Hill, need to honor their jobs and the people who elected them. Enough already with the partisan bickering and feeble attempts to verbally lynch one another. And voters need to vote--send the message you want to convey to your lawmakers; if you think they're inept, vote them out of office.

America, haven to free thinkers and supposedly headquarters of the free world, is good at enacting change. But change doesn't just happen. It beckons free thinkers to make it happen.

Loosey-Goosey Criteria Spell Trouble

The BusinessWeek story says the loose criteria surrounding H-1B visas have caused trouble:

Earlier this year, senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) launched an investigation (BusinessWeek.com, 5/15/07) into how companies have been using the H-1B program for temporary visas. They disclosed that the most active users of the visas are Indian outsourcing companies, led by Infosys Technologies (INFY) and Wipro (WIT). The senators said the visas were being used not to make the U.S. more competitive but to save money by hiring cheaper workers from abroad and to facilitate the outsourcing of jobs to other countries. Grassley cited the "high amount of fraud and abuse" in launching the investigation. Wipro and Infosys say they are simply helping their clients become more competitive and have done nothing wrong.

In June, a startling video leaked out. It showed a corporate law firm coaching employers (BusinessWeek.com, 6/22/07) on how to get around the requirement of trying to hire an American before bringing in a worker from abroad for a green card. "[O]ur goal is clearly not to find a qualified and interested U.S. worker," said the firm's director of marketing in the clip.

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