Visa. Priceless

It’s April 1st but apart from being an excuse for a lot of weak mildly humorous blog entries, today is also the day that applications for H-1 visas opens. And probably closes based on historical precedent.

The current downturn has lead to renewed focus in the H-1B visa cap, not to mention xenophobic restrictions slipped into the TARP bills to make the US even less welcoming. As I said in my previous entry about immigration, I think we have the worst of all worlds right now. The caps are so low that companies cannot use H-1 visas to hire talented people from overseas to work for them, they have become only a way for Asian subcontractors to get people in the to country and nothing much else. The entire year’s supply of visas goes in a day so the old model no longer works. It is no longer possible to find a talented person overseas, hire him or her, get a visa and set the start date a few weeks later. That is how I came to the US in the early 1980s. Now, the only model that works for a person like that is to hire them onto your overseas subsidiary (so don’t be a startup or you won’t have one) and after they have worked for a year it is possible to transfer them on an L-1 visa.

But people always tend to focus on the lowest level people and debate whether or not a person with an H-1 visa is taking a job away from an equally qualified American. In the old days the answer was certainly “no”, but now I’m not so sure. They are for sure taking a job away from an almost certainly more talented overseas employee who cannot get hired under the current visa system and who would be an unquestionable gain to the US as an immigrant.

However, immigrants create a lot of jobs for Americans too by their skill at founding or managing companies. In EDA, for example, Aart de Geus (CEO of Synopys) came from Switzerland, Lip-Bu Tan (CEO of Cadence) came from Singapore, Rajeev Madhavan (CEO of Magma) came from India. As far as I know, Wally Rhines (CEO of Mentor) is American born and bred. Some other sizeable EDA companies with immigrant CEOs are Attrenta (Ajoy Bose from India), Apache (Andrew Yang from China), Sequence (Vik Kulkarni from India), VaST (Alain Labatt from France), Virtutech (John Lambert from England).

I’m guessing that most of the immigrants originally came to this country either as students (so on an F-1 visa) or on an H-1 visa. Today we make it much too hard for the next generation of talented individuals overseas to come here and stay.

I think that over the next few years the problem with the US just as likely to be immigrants leaving the country, especially to return to India or Taiwan/China. This is already happening to some extent. Growth there is more attractive than here, and the infrastructure in the US for starting a business, thought better, is no longer so superior to everywhere else.

I think that the US’s capability to absorb talented individuals and make them successful is a competitive advantage no other country has. Everyone else must love the way we are handicapping ourselves these days. We are our own April fool joke, but not even mildly humorous.

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