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Immigrant Tech Workers in U.S. Confront Uncertainty, Fear and Trolling

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Data & Technology
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The cold-blooded murder of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla in a suburban Kansas City bar, and the lack of empathy from President Donald Trump and the White House, has put many foreign-born technology workers on edge. America is a country that only grows because of immigration and innovation. But many say it's now run by an administration that is hostile to both, spurring economic uncertainty and social unrest.

The recent emergence of an anti-immigrant website, SaveAmericanITJobs.org, only stoked more fears, especially among Indian-Americans and Indian nationals who are working in the U.S. temporarily. At issue is the site’s filming and posting of pictures of Indian families relaxing and playing in suburban Columbus, Ohio. The site’s creator, Steve Pushor, told BuzzFeed that he does not support violence or want Indian nationals to leave the nation. But his creepy narration of the video, which was since pulled down from the site, made some immigrants uncomfortable, especially those from India and South Asia.

At the core of the issue is controversy over the H1-B visa program, which first emerged during the late 1990s as a result of the American dot-com boom. The visa program, which has morphed over the years as part of the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act, allows 65,000 highly-skilled technology workers from overseas to work in the U.S. on temporarily assignments for up to three years. (That number rises to 85,000 if the tally includes the 20,000 visas granted to foreign nationals who complete graduate school.)

Technology companies, which have overwhelmingly opposed Trump’s immigration policies, insist that the program is necessary in order to recruit skilled talent. Many businesses are also flummoxed over the Trump administration’s recent decision to end “premium processing,” which ensured some visa applicants a full review within 15 days. Critics of the program say it is rife with abuse, and link it to companies like Disney and Southern California Edison (SCE) laying off technology workers, only to humiliate them more by demanding they train their replacements or lose their severance pay. Outrage over the announcements led Disney to backtrack on some of those plans; SCE found itself under investigation.

So is the H1-B program necessary to fill in the gaps, or is it a ruse to pay foreign-born workers less than U.S. citizens?

The truth is somewhere in between, but simply blaming these workers for "stealing" American jobs is a stretch. It is difficult to estimate how many H1-B workers are in the U.S. at any point in time. Many later return to their home countries, or technology companies transfer them somewhere else overseas. But there are at least 6.7 million information technology jobs in the U.S., and a cursory search through online job boards reveals that there are plenty of jobs out there.

Regardless, scapegoating people like Srinivas Kuchibhotla for putting down roots and living abroad while contributing to our country’s economy only moves our society in one direction: nowhere. The reality is that America’s openness has allowed millions of people to work here, pay taxes, buy local goods and services, and, in many cases, invest here and start their own companies. Or, they take their knowledge and start companies in their home country because they prefer to be in a place where they feel more at home, creating an economic multiplier effect worldwide. The same holds true for Americans who, because of our excellent higher-education system (especially if you have white skin), often have the opportunity to take their skills, credentials and experience to work abroad.

The stubborn truth about America is that if you have a minimal amount of ambition, creativity and some entrepreneurial drive, you can make it in this country – even if you are one of the 60 percent of Americans who do not have that piece of paper called a college degree (and many U.S. citizens do quite well without one). To those who blame immigrants for taking your jobs, the problem is not with them. The problem lies within, if you expect a job to fall into your lap. The economy is changing, just like it has continually for the last 200 years.

Image credit: Austin/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

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