Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Innovation Argument

One of the the most widely offered arguments in favor of more H-1B visas is "innovation". American employers claim that they need H-1B workers in order to be able to innovate. They conflate the ability to innovate with the need to remain competitive. In my view, the two issues are not related at all, and I will get to the competitiveness argument and its conflation with innovation in a separate post.

Regarding the "innovation" argument. I feel like asking those who advance it:

-- did we need H-1Bs to create the internet?
-- did we need H-1Bs to create products like iMac and iPod?
-- what are some examples of new products/services that are already developed/in the pipeline -- which would not be possible if not for H-1B employees?

In practical terms, how do people who did not go to school in the U.S., indeed, who are products of educational systems that rely on rote learning and high "marks" and where there is hardly any independent study or critical/analytical thinking component suddenly become "innovators"? How do people who live half a world away become masters of a technology that originates here?

In reality, the irony is this: many of the people now coming here on H-1B visas are graduates of second and third tier colleges. At least some of them are people who paid "coyotes" to apply for their H-1B visas. And, in the extremely competitive job market that currently exists in India, these are people who DID NOT make the cut and failed to get hired by the likes of Infosys. So, rather than getting the so-called "best and brightest", we are getting the detritus.

And, in all the above, I have not even mentioned communication challenges because of a lack of fluency in written and spoken English and cultural differences which come into play whenever people of diverse backgrounds work together. What is being "lost in translation"? What strategies are being used in order to compensate for that? Now, that is where some real innovation might be coming into play!

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