Hidden in Plain Sight — Again

You may recall that a few years ago, Microsoft established a software development center in Vancouver, Canada, saying it was forced to do so because of a shortage of H-1B work visas in the U.S.  Well, now Microsoft has gotten the Canadian government to exempt them from a requirement that a firm may hire foreign workers only if it demonstrates insufficient numbers of qualified Canadians are available for the jobs.  (The American H-1B visa does not have this requirement for general employers.)

I reported on the Vancouver center back in May, when I pointed out that there was a glaring contradiction that no one seems to have noticed:  According to the BusinessWeek article, “There, Microsoft will hire and train 400 software developers from around the world to work on mobile and cloud projects.”  Did you catch that?  “…hire and TRAIN”!  Remember, the whole rationale for  hiring the foreign workers — claimed by U.S. employers and codified in Canadian law — is that the employers resort to hiring foreign workers because there are insufficient domestic workers who have the specialized skills for the jobs.  Yet Microsoft is TRAINING the foreign workers in these skills.

Yet no one seemed at the time to notice this “emperor has no clothes” situation back in May, just as no one quoted in the current article seems to fully realize this.

It’s a safe bet that the Vancouver move makes for great lobbying points on the Hill.  There’s nothing politicians fear more in the economics realm than the rallying cry, “Jobs are moving overseas!” (The fact that in this case we’re talking only about a 3-hour drive up I-5 doesn’t reduce the argument’s effectiveness, I’m sure.)  But what if those Hill dwellers (and their counterparts in Ottawa) knew the REAL situation in Vancouver?

4 thoughts on “Hidden in Plain Sight — Again

  1. I’m interested in the time of the shift of US firms away from investments in training new-hires (and retained employees). From many scraps of info, I can discern a drop-off in training and relocation assistance by employers some time around 1984. It could have been 1983 or maybe 1985. Even at the latter date, some of the bigger STEM firms which offered both internal training and training to customers had course catalogs as fat as most mid-sized universities (though a little padded with graphics with each class description to try to entice the customers; assembly and other programming languages, graphics programming, sys admin, electronics/hardware design and repair, project management, data-base analysis and design, data-base admin, ERP, GIS, utilities management, transaction programming, CAD/CAM/CAE, video-game programming, statistics for quality management…). A couple of them ran TV ads for their classes and had class-rooms in several USA and European cities.

    A related question is how much substance there is/was in employer-provided training… and how much substance there was/is in federal government jobs training programs (and federal contract/grant funded job training programs). Has it stayed about the same? Gotten more beefy? Been watered down to feel-good grant-mining exercises?

    When did the B-shools and the executive set decide that investments in training USA/ Canadian/ UK citizen employees was a proof of extreme talent shortage rather than the norm?

    When did “we thought about recruiting and placed one ad at an on-line site for 2 weeks, listing 30 must-have ‘skills'” become, “we are struggling sooooo harrrrd to recruit, but the talent we neeeed just isn’t out there”?

    Was it coincident with the advent of H-1B (1990)?
    Was it driven by tax changes discouraging free-lancing (1986)?
    Was it driven by tax changes discouraging the “3 martini lunch”?

    Was it driven by banking and tax changes in 1980 under Carter? or among the ones in 1982 under Reagan? or both? (I ask these because a couple articles in the DoL _Monthly Labor Review_ note a sharp increase in bodyshopping at the beginning of 1983. And, of course, there was the elimination of Savings & Loans beginning late in the Carter admin, due to the odd “take a big risk, take a big profit the managers win; lose and the tax-victims lose instead of the risk-taking managers” incentives created by those 2 sets of laws in 1980 and 1982… which distorted savings and investments and habits of the “little people”.)

    Anyway, I can’t help but continue to suspect that there are threads of connection amongst these — some thicker than others.

    Re: your cover e-mail, maybe 0.1% of MSFT’s H-1Bs and L-1s do legitimately have some odd niche combination of knowledge; ditto IBM, HP, Tata, Convergys, Infosys… but I can’t see justification for any of them to employ more than 20 (absolute tops) people on guest-work visas (H-1B + L-1), and the vast majority of them should only have 1 or 2.


    • I’ve seen your point about training brought up before, though less articulately than you do here.

      On the one hand, I strongly object, at least for software development jobs (the biggest category of H-1Bs), because actually in those good old days you speak of, the more standard approach was that one learn the new programming language on the job, on one’s own, without formal training. As I’ve often said, if a programmer is not sharp enough to learn on his/her own, you shouldn’t be hiring him/her in the first place.

      On the other hand, it used to be common for employers to sponsor their Bachelor’s degree engineers for Master’s study, which most do NOT do these days. This is highly relevant, as the industry lobbyists claim that a major reason that employers hire H-1Bs is that insufficiently many Americans pursue graduate study (mainly Master’s, NOT PhD). Texas Instruments specifically told Congress it has plenty of American applicants at the Bachelor’s level, but not graduate level.


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