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Worker visas that work

The recent brouhaha over the RBC outsourcing of IT employees reflects the substandard quality of Canadian technology personnel and the failure of our immigration system to supply needed human resources. Canada JobsThis stands in stark contrast to America’s success in nurturing high technology titans like Google, Cisco, and Facebook, in flourishing hubs such as the famed Silicon Valley. Most of these corporations and technology hubs have made heavy usage of temporary worker visa programs, such as H1B and L1 visas. These visas differ from the Canadian Temporary Worker Visas in substantial ways. The primary difference is that Canada’s program tries to shoehorn multiple employer needs into a broad category, encompassing everything from farm employees to fast food workers, coal miners to IT developers. H1B visas, by contrast, are focused on professional categories and specialty occupations, geared towards highly qualified personnel. Visa holders must be paid prevailing wages and the recruiting firm is required to advertise for the position among Americans before recruiting foreign employees. The H1B program is hardly immune from criticism. Highly paid American technology workers have raised alarm over possible abuses, including the usage of temporary visas to lower wages. Commentators like Lou Dobbs (former CNN host) raised hysteria to fever pitch levels with such provocative titles as ‘Outsourcing America’. U.S. corporations counter that built-in requirements, such as salary equivalency and advertising for American employees, ensure that wage depression and job losses among citizens do not result from the program. The results speak for themselves. Since the program began, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has revealed that the Technology Sector Employment in America has been one of the few industries where employment levels have recovered to pre-recession levels. The Bureau also projects that through 2020, the sector’s employment will grow by 22%, a figure that other industries would be happy to replicate. The Bureau’s figures are valid for American citizens and do not include temporary workers. Nor is there any evidence of salary deflation in the industry. This year, specialized technology publication Infoworld revealed that while average Silicon Valley technology salaries remain the highest (well into the six figures), numerous other cities are seeing soaring salaries in the field. This indicates that job losses which have taken place have been more than adequately replaced by other American citizens. The ‘victims’ of possible job losses were likely to include those who were grossly overpaid or whose skills were outdated and unwilling to retrain. Unfortunately, sensationalist media programs often featured such individuals, whose personal stories have often been used to whip up hysteria. The national origin of most technology workers under the U.S. H1B program provides more tangible evidence that temporary visa workers of this type do not work for lower wages. Half of all the approximately 110,000 H1B visas issued annually go to Indian workers, and the wealth and success of Indian immigrants is undeniable. In 2012, the results of authoritative study conducted by Professor AnnaLee Saxena of Berkeley were published in Forbes magazine. It disclosed that Indian immigrants, many of whom entered the U.S. through the H1B program, were responsible for an eye popping 8% of technology and engineering startups (despite constituting less than 1% of Americans). A full 33% of immigrant startup founders were Indian, more than the next seven immigrant groups combined (Canadian immigrants constituted less than 5% of startup founders despite easier entry requirements under NAFTA). Indians substantially led all immigrants groups in bioscience, telecommunications, manufacturing, semiconductors, and defense/aerospace startups. In 2011, results of the Pew Forum were published in the NY Times and showed that Hindu salaries and education levels were, along with Jews, the highest in America. It is difficult to argue that H1B employees are being brought in to provide low cost labour. The continuous inflow of highly qualified staff over two decades has ensured that American high technology has remained vibrant. The labour competition provided by well compensated H1B workers, who often become citizens after their term, has been good for American workers by forcing them to keep skills sharp. This has not happened in Canada. Canadian technology firms have had a brutal decade, starting the demise of Nortel and continuing with the tribulations of RIM. Much of this is the result of a generally poor quality of educated immigrants whose skills do not fit our labour market needs. In the absence of a well structured temporary worker high-tech program administered by corporations, Canadian immigration has been a victim of government bureaucrats selecting immigrants and assigning a ludicrous system of points. The result has been immigrants with PhDs driving taxis and working in fast food outlets. Consider the origin of most immigrants. According to Canadian immigrations statistics, until 2004 Pakistan, with one tenth the population of India, supplied half as many immigrants to Canada. While many immigrants do come to Canada from India, there are strong indications that many arrive from less industrially and technologically advanced regions of India. A huge number of Indian immigrants to Canada arrive from the agricultural state of Punjab. The Canadian consulate in Punjab has experienced the highest rates of fraudulent applications, many times higher than in Delhi. Punjab is not a major center of industry and technological development in India. In contrast, most Indian immigrants to the U.S. arrive from Gujurat. This state is one of India’s most industrially powerful, with a government that has been rated internationally by the Fraser Institute as the most efficient and corruption-free in the country. Many other technology professionals originate in South India, where the technology capital of Bangalore is administered by the same BJP party which runs Gujurat. The lack of competition from well qualified immigrants has meant that native Canadians in IT and technology fields are remarkably insulated from competition. This has effectively kneecapped their professional development, rendering them exceptionally vulnerable to competition from technology workers who happen to be foreigners on temporary visas. The availability of technology resources for specific positions within a firm is also related to the availability of applicants who demand compensation close to the prevailing wage. It is unfair to expect corporations to pay wages which greatly exceed reasonable levels. In the auto industry, Canadians wages are the highest in the world, driving much production to the U.S. and Mexico. The auto plants which remain in Canada stay here to a large extent thanks to bailouts and government incentives. It would be impossible for provincial and federal governments to offer all corporations similar subsidies to retain exorbitant Canadian talent. Shutting out foreign technology workers, given our crippling shortage of reasonably priced domestic talent, would only pave the way for wholesale outsourcing of all professional functions to India, or the extinction of Canadian tech firms (a la Nortel). There is valid criticism of the Temporary Worker Visas, but much of the recent outrage is misplaced. For instance, it has been alleged that RBC IT employees had to train their Indian replacements, provoking lurid analogies to condemned prisoners being forced to dig their own graves. In reality, software systems between banks are often remarkably similar, yet maintain small proprietary differences. Personnel with extensive training in another bank system would require some training but the transition would be much quicker than for a lesser trained individual. The major criticism pertains to the exceptionally broad sweep of the program. Talent in skilled professions is at a premium, but high unemployment levels in mining regions like Northern Ontario make it difficult to argue that Chinese miners need to be imported into BC. Realistically, temporary worker programs for foreigners should be used to fill shortages of reasonably priced talent in professional occupations rather than more common lower level service, agriculture, and manufacturing skills. Another criticism of the program is that employers are permitted to pay up to 15% less than prevailing wages. This may take into account the extra administrative and transportation costs associated with foreign workers; however, considering the superior talent being provided, it may be reasonable (at least for the sake of optics) for corporations to offer equivalent salaries. Structured and administered properly, a high tech guest worker program, with possible expedited Canadian citizenship for skilled talent, would benefit Canada enormously. It would permit us to tap the best talent in the world, while filling up the sadly depleted pool of available highly skilled Canadian human resources. Source: http://opinion.financialpost.com/2013/04/16/worker-visas-that-work/

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