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by Vault Consulting Editors | March 05, 2009

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Who knew the recession would find so many ways to hit so many people? A host of publications have picked up of late on the furor over something known as an H-1B visa -- basically a work permit that allows firms to bring specialist foreign workers into the U.S. for a limited period of time. Nothing new in that, but with unemployment lines growing exponentially, it's an issue that has come into sharp focus of late.

Like every good story, the H-1B saga has two distinct sides and a truth that probably lies somewhere in the middle. Supporters of the program claim that it brings much-needed skilled workers to the U.S., while opponents -- who have been in the vociferous majority of late -- reckon that the program deprives U.S. workers of jobs in favor of less expensive foreign workers. Indeed, this washingtontechnology.com article on the subject points out exactly how much of a political hot-button the issue has become, reporting that "Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a critic of the H-1B visa program, suggested in February that Microsoft lay off H-1B visa holders before if gives pink slips to American workers during the recession." Microsoft, of course, announced some 5,000 layoffs in January, and is the biggest U.S.-based recipient of H-1B visas for workers.

So what, if anything, does this have to do with consulting? A lot, as it happens: the top four recipients of H-1B visas are all Indian outsourcing firms (Infosys, Wipro, Satyam and Tata Consultancy Services, in that order), while no fewer than nine of the top ten recipients have a hand in tech consulting.

(Those interested in seeing the full top 10 can do so in this article in Computerworld.

The real issue, however?at least from a hiring/jobseeking perspective?is what the visa system says about the U.S. hiring pool for high-level tech positions. Leaving aside arguments that firms are abusing the system to staff their outfits on the cheap (something that?if it does exist?is going to be a lot more difficult for firms to do going forward), the fact that firms are actively competing to grab as many of the 65,000 available visas each year suggests one major plus for jobseekers: there's a giant skills shortage that needs to be filled. OK, it's for some seriously skilled work in some seriously specialized corners of the employment world, but the bottom line is: there be jobs. And if anyone out of work or entering college today is looking for a secure future tomorrow?it seems like tech companies may well be the place to start looking.

--Posted by Phil Stott

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Filed Under: Consulting
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