US IMMIGRATION REFORMS

An opportunity for IT professionals from Pakistan

AMANULLAH BASHAR
July 02 - July 08, 2007

Workers' home remittances have touched an unprecedented level of $5 billion in Pakistan out of which a growing share is attributable to the IT professionals working abroad especially in the Middle East, European Union countries and the United States. This valuable cash flow from external resources is likely to gain momentum during 2007-08 on the back of immigration reforms currently being reviewed by the US senate.

It is worth mentioning that several high-tech companies like Microsoft have mounted a campaign to get more foreign skilled workers into the United States, with the revival of comprehensive immigration reform bill expected to come up before the Senate this week. IT giants including Bill Gates and Steven A Ballmer of Microsoft have led a parade of high-tech executives to Capitol Hill, urging lawmakers to provide more visas for temporary foreign workers and permanent immigrants who can fill critical jobs.

Google has also reminded senators that one of its founders, Sergey Brin, came from the Soviet Union as a young boy. To stay competitive in a "knowledge-based economy," company officials have said Google needs to hire many more immigrants as software engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists. High-tech companies want to be able to hire larger numbers of well-educated, foreign-born professionals who, they say, can help them succeed in the global economy, it said.

For these scientists and engineers, they seek permanent-residence visas, known as green cards, and H1-B visas. The H1-B program provides temporary work visas for people who have university degrees or the equivalent to fill jobs in specialty occupations including health care and technology. The Senate bill would expand the number of work visas for skilled professionals, but high-tech companies say the proposed increase is not nearly enough. Several provisions of the Senate bill are meant to enhance protections for American workers and to prevent visa fraud and abuse.

The proposed "point system" to evaluate immigrants seeking green cards would reward people who have advanced degrees and job skills needed in the United States. But the high-tech companies were upset because the bill would have stripped them of the ability to sponsor specific immigrants for particular jobs. Under a proposed amendment, 20,000 green cards would be set aside each year for immigrants of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers and certain managers and executives of multinational corporations. In a way this interesting development has rolled the ball in the court of IT specialists in Pakistan to grab the opportunity. Pakistan has a strong case of sending its skilled man power to US because the country has economically suffered due to its position as a frontline partner to the US in the war on terror. Pakistan has to present its case by highlighting the escalated problem of unemployment especially amongst the skilled manpower. The original bill would have eliminated the existing preference for such workers.

In addition, the amendment would give employers five years to adjust their hiring practices to the new "merit-based" point system for obtaining green cards. The number of green cards for employer-sponsored immigrants would gradually decline, to 44,000 in the fifth year from 115,000 in each of the first two years. No green cards would be set aside for employer-sponsored immigrants after that. Many high-tech companies bring in foreign professionals on temporary H1-B visas.

The government is swamped with petitions. On the first two days of the application period in April, it received more than 123,000 petitions for 65,000 slots. The Senate bill would raise the cap to 115,000 in 2008, with a possible increase to 180,000 in later years, based on labor market needs.

Many high-tech businesses want to hire foreign students who obtain advanced degrees from American universities, and many of the students want to work here, but cannot get visas. Under current law, up to 20,000 foreigners who earn a master's degree or higher from an American university are generally exempt from the annual limit on new H1-B visas. The amendment would also establish a new exemption, providing 20,000 additional H1-B visas for people who have earned advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics from a university outside the United States. Technology companies face a serious challenge from a different direction, as lawmakers of both parties worry about possible abuses in the H1-B program.

High-tech companies said that the wage standards under a proposed amendment would, in effect, require them to pay some H1-B employees more than some equally qualified American workers who are performing the same duties. The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said that thousands of H1-B workers have been paid less than the prevailing wage.

GOOGLE

Once upon a time, the most valuable secret formula in American business was Coca-Cola's. Today, it's Goggle's master algorithm.

In the search business, however, there's no rival to play the role of Pepsi. Yahoo is the closest but still a distant No. 2, and Google earns more profits in a single quarter than Yahoo does in a year. This may have had a bearing on the recent departure of Yahoo's chief technology officer, its chief operating officer and, last week, its chief executive. Microsoft, an even more distant No. 3 in the search competition, can't keep up with Google, even with $28 billion of cash in its pockets at the end of March.

Profit margins in the search business are mind-boggling, and cannot be obtained in other segments of the technology world.

Even gathering the crumbs of business left behind by Google could generate a lofty market capitalization. Don Dodge, a Microsoft manager who works outside of the company's search group, made this argument in a post on his personal blog last month: Why 1% of Search Market Share Is Worth Over $1 billion. Dodge reasoned that 1% of the 7.3 billion searches performed in the United States in March, multiplied by 12 cents in advertising revenue per search, would yield annualized revenue of $105 million.

Engines like Hakia, Accoona and Powerset are trying to grab market share by writing a more sophisticated algorithm. A growing number of entrepreneurs are placing their bets, however, on a hybrid system that puts humans back into the search equation. They are grouped under a newly coined rubric, social search, and it is becoming a crowded field.

Newcomers like Squidoo, Sproose and NosyJoe offer search results based on submissions or votes by users. Bessed also relies on users to suggest the best Web pages for a topic, but then has editors refine them.

Sometimes a small variation on an existing idea is enough to make it stand out. In October 2006, when Bessed began its search service with the manually edited results pages, it had only two editors and covered just a few hundred search terms suggested randomly by users.

Last month, another company, Mahalo, inaugurated a search service with manually edited results. It started with several advantages: venture capital backing, 30 editors, systematic focus on the most commonly requested search terms, and the added idea of supplying Google's search results for any search.

GLOBAL IT INDUSTRY GROWTH OVERVIEW

YEAR

GROWTH (US $ Tril.)

RATE

2004

1.045

5.6

2005

1.103

5.6

2006

1.165

5.6

2007

1.238

6.3

2008

1.312

6.3

2009

1.394

6.3

2010

1.481

6.3

Source: 'IDC Press Release' 10th Jan. 2007