Thursday, September 30, 2010

In praise of foreign workers

It's election season in the U.S., and the television is filled again with advertisements discussing foreign workers.

This is a large subject, but let me emphasize one thing: the ads have it backwards for software jobs. I want foreigners working with me. They are valuable members of the teams I've been on, and they create as many jobs as the take.

Whenever one of my coworkers has visa trouble, it's a real harm to the team. We lose lots of time, often days if not weeks, just due to the person filing papers, making phone calls, and travelling to offices. The national offices involved are far from friendly about the whole thing, either. They often keep bank hours, and they sometimes require presence in person. If you make any little mistake, the letters don't say, "You seem to have forgotten to file form IS-1042-T. Could you please resubmit it?" They are more like, "Get out, you rotten terrorist scum! If you aren't gone by tomorrow, your assets will be seized." This all leads to a situation where the person isn't in the best frame of mind to do good work.

Supposedly the point of this is to protect American workers. The economics behind that doesn't apply to software, however. Most of the ones I've worked with have a backlog of 5-10 times the amount of work they are doing that would be valuable to do if only they had a clone. When a foreign worker comes to the U.S. to work on computers, they don't knock someone else out of a job. They do one of those things that was previously being left on the table.

Moreover, having more people in the industry means that we all get smarter. They enrich the intellectual community. Smarter programmers are more productive, and more productive programmers make higher wages. Without foreign workers, we aren't as capable as we could be.

In short, I truly wish that most all barriers to foreign workers would be dropped in my industry. They're based on xenophobia and bigotry, and I'm embarrassed every time one of my coworkers must deal with it. If someone can get a computer job in the U.S., then let them come. They expand the pie by far more than they consume.

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