Jag Venugopal's Blog

January 20, 2012

Fake experience letters

Filed under: Information Technology — Jag @ 6:15 am

I have blogged about H1B visa scams in the past; click  here and here. My blog posts on it have been quite popular (at least relative to my other posts).

My blog’s dashboard showed a visitor from Google yesterday, with the search query

“from where can i get fake experience letters in chennai”

I guess the visa fraud industry is alive and well in spite of the economic downturn.

August 20, 2011

From the “I told you so” department

Filed under: Information Technology — Jag @ 11:06 am

Back in July, I had pronounced the fate of WebOS and others. I knew that the demise was coming, but even my prognostication failed to realize how fast it would be.

WebOS could be a great buy for someone at fire sale prices if there were a bunch of patents to go with it that could be used in the coming Mobile Patent Armageddon. The WebOS software is doomed. Developer interest can be sustained around one or two platforms at best… and they are iOS and Android. The rest can cut their losses like HP just did.

https://jvenugop.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/why-the-current-crop-of-ipad-competitors-will-all-fail/

With all that said, what boggles the mind is that management can get away with making a $1 Billion purchase, and then writing it off a scant year later. And they pay these geniuses in the tens of millions each year to commit blunders. I could commit the same blunders for a lot less, if only someone gave me the opportunity.

May 20, 2011

LinkedIn worth $10 Billion?

Filed under: Information Technology — Jag @ 6:28 am
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Like many professionals, I too have an account on LinkedIn, and have managed to link up to some 200+ contacts. LinkedIn is an excellent networking resource and its value grows as more people use it. Similar to most people, I have a free account, and little need for the extra features available to paying customers. Every so often, LinkedIn flashes an ad at me, from which they presumably collect a few cents.

Even with all that said, I am hard-pressed to figure out how LinkedIn could have a $10 Billion valuation. Assuming a P/E ratio of 50, which puts it in the momentum investing category, we’d still need to see earnings of $200 million to justify such a valuation. According to various websites, LinkedIn’s earnings are somewhere between $8 and $15 Million. That would put LinkedIn’s P/E ratio at around 1250. Which, give or take, is about 52 times the P/E ratio of companies comprising the S&P 500. Even if LinkedIn had a great product, sold advertising by the truckload, and did a host of stuff such as being a better version of Monster.com, its hard to imagine how the company would justify such valuations.

My money is on LinkedIn rising temporarily, then plateauing and falling, and finally becoming a takeover target for someone like Google, who can then use the LinkedIn network to make a big push into job ads. But then again, I thought Google won’t go too far and how right was I on that?

Update: According to The Atlantic, LinkedIn has the highest P/E ratio of any stock, anywhere (though not sure if it is historically the highest P/E ratio.). Tulip mania all over again!

January 18, 2011

2011 Project Management Trends

Filed under: Information Technology,Project Management — Jag @ 11:58 am
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Subtitle: Captain Obvious meets Project Management.

I recently saw a slideshow about the “Top 10 Project Management Trends for 2011”, from ESI International. I have taken training courses from ESI in the past, so I was interested in what they had to say about trends in project management. The text of the slides is reproduced below, along with my comments.

  1. Leadership skills will be critical
  2. I was getting by just ordering people around. Now I have to learn leadership skills? I need Benjamin Linus to take me back to 2010.

  3. No industry will be spared from the war for qualified talent
  4. In the good old days through 2010, qualified, competent people were a dime a dozen in most industries. This war for qualified talent is definitely a 2011 thing, and most probably brought about by global warming. Get serious!

  5. Agile will be seen for what it is, and isnt
  6. That’s a tautology isn’t it? Covers all bases. Probably in 2010 and prior, agile was seen for what it was, and was unseen for what it wasn’t? Or is it the other way around?

  7. Competency models will be core to managing professional development and promotions
  8. You really mean that there will be specific goals for training programs, and criteria for promotions? I wonder how they were managing all these years? Say, with a coin toss or rock/paper/scissors to decide which training program to take or whom to promote?

  9. Experiential learning will be the norm rather than the exception
  10. Are you saying mere book knowledge is now proven to be useless, and people need experience on the job? My goodness, we never figured that one out in the last decade. Glory Hallelujah for 2011.

  11. Informal learning will gain momentum
  12. Aha, I understand that there is this thing called “The Internets” and another thing called “The Google” which has lots of training material. Then there are these new things called “Wikis” and “Blogs” that were discovered between Christmas in 2010 and New Year . And who woulda thunk about coaching and mentoring. I’m so excited with all this new-fangled stuff. Got to make a note on my PalmPilot to read about it tonight.

  13. Project Sponsorship will become an area of focus in South Asia
  14. Why don’t you just say India? And even there, I wonder how they survived all these years having projects without sponsors. That must have been what was responsible for the Commonwealth Games fiasco.

  15. Outsourcing will remain a risky business
  16. Bummer! I was hoping I could hire hundreds of Indians half-way across the world, for 1/5th of American wages, and not have to take on any risk. That’s so 2010!

  17. PMs will team with “change partners” and use structured methods to facilitate adoption
  18. Are you kidding? We’ve now discovered the virtues of training our hapless end-users in whatever product our project produces?  What a novel concept. In my career, I’ve always created the product and thrown it over the fence. I’m so totally excited about these new things called online help and training manuals.

  19. The PMP will continue its world domination, but will no longer be enough
  20. That rings a bell. Back in the old days of 2010, whenever I admired myself in the mirror, I would always see a “PMP Halo”. People would defer to me and sing hosannas to my superior skills. Sadly that stopped happening in 2011, and I was searching for an explanation why. The muggles are figuring out that the PMP is not all that its made out to be. Time for the PMI to crank out another credential that can take the world by storm.

November 17, 2010

Jag’s Recent Programming Book Purchases

Filed under: Information Technology — Jag @ 11:16 pm

Why, may one ask, does a Project Manager and Business Analyst buy programming books, and that too for obscure (to the average cubicle slave) programming languages? Because its fun, that’s why. Some people like to curl up in front of a fireplace with a novel. For me, computer programming books are “fireplace reading”. And if I do it on my own time, for the love of computing, I will learn only those languages for which excellent open-source implementations exist.

Head First Python is a “right-brained” introduction to Python that I’ve just started reading. I’ve written Python programs off and on for the past few years, and it is now my primary programming language. Hopefully I’ll learn something new, but even if its a recap of stuff I already know, it’s still worthwhile. 

I’ve purchased two Lisp books to finally become proficient in the language. When I was studying for my Master’s in Computer Science at Northeastern, they made us use Scheme. To someone that cut his teeth on K&R C, Scheme was absolutely the most miserable language to write programs in. And to someone schooled in imperative programming, the functional style was a nightmare. However the intervening years and some gray hairs have caused a reassessment of the relative merits of Lisp and C. And so it is that I’ve purchased Practical Common Lisp and Land of Lisp. I’m reading both concurrently, trying to transfer a previous familiarity with Scheme into proper knowledge of Common Lisp. Not quite sure what use I will put this knowledge to, but we’ll figure that one out when I get there.

I purchased all three books in PDF form to read on the iPad. I like reading books on the iPad because:

  • One avoids cluttering up one’s basement with paper copies. I already have three full bookshelves.
  • Unlike the Kindle, the iPad’s screen responds instantaneously. Most importantly, one can read PDFs and full-page documents without losing the original formatting.
  • Ebooks are often available at significant discounts to print books. And when you buy ebooks, never forget to check retailmenot.com to see if coupons are available. I purchased all three books mentioned above at 50% off list.

September 13, 2010

What you leave out is as important as what you include

Filed under: Information Technology — Jag @ 12:39 am
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I’ve been following news reports of the release of Amazon’s latest third-generation Kindle device. It appears that the device has been well-accepted, given the number of glowing reviews, and given the waiting list for a Kindle. I think there’s a lesson to be had from Amazon’s success with the Kindle that IT can learn.

When the Apple iPad came out, many observers predicted the death of the Kindle. The iPad was a general purpose tablet, had a color screen and flawless video performance, while the Kindle was suited to reading monochrome books with most content in textual form. Apple was crowned king of the eBook world, with publishers flocking to Steve Jobs to sign up contracts.

Indeed, Amazon could have hit the panic button and tried to out-iPad the iPad. That would have entailed the addition of an LCD screen, perhaps a new operating system and API, a heavier and thicker gadget with reduced battery life. Instead, what Amazon did was to go back to basics, stick with what made sense for a dedicated eBook reader and stripped out anything that was superflous. The Kindle adds virtually no new features (it even stripped out 3G access from the basic version of the device); if reviewers are to be believed, it significantly improves on existing features — crisper text, improved battery life, smaller, lighter, significantly less expensive.

Commercial software has a lot to learn from how Amazon approached Kindle 3. Most every iteration of a software system is more bloated than what came before it, in an attempt to please some constituency, howsoever small. Witness the monstrosity that Microsoft Word has turned into, from what was a simple word processor. Even Apple is not immune to this… iTunes now rivals Microsoft Word for the title of feature bloat champion. Perhaps what we need is new thinking that views removing features (or at least controlling bloat) as a worthwhile goal. Fewer features, better usability, lower price can sometimes overcome a strong competitor, as Amazon’s example clearly demonstrates.

In a similar vein, much complaining is directed at IT projects that are either late or are outright failures. Empirically, I’ve observed the same feature-bloat dynamic that plague Word and iTunes. IT systems that paid heed to feature bloat and consciously avoided it would have a better chance of completing within time and budget constraints, in addition to being maintainable over the long run.

June 17, 2010

More Proof of H1B Misuse

Filed under: Information Technology — Jag @ 7:00 am

A while ago, the USCIS issued what is now known as the Neufeld Memo that set out various scenarios where an employer-employee relationship existed.

This memorandum was met with much opposition from the IT “Body Shopping” industry that specializes in importing workers on the H1B visa, and subcontracting them out to various temporary positions. This is in violation of the laws because there is no job opening when they are hired; most are hired, then spend a couple months applying on job sites for a temp job. When that is over, they move on to the next temp job. Additionally, in violation of the law, such “employees” are not paid when they are between projects, i.e. on the bench.

The Neufeld memo has significantly impacted body shops’ ability to conduct business as usual. Proof can be seen in the number of filings for H1B visas in 2010, which is running lower at the same point in time than it did in 2009. One would have expected the opposite situation to be true, because of the recovery in 2010, and the consequent demand for temporary jobs.

Faced with a memo that, for all intents and purposes, destroyed the business model of the body shops, they have filed suit. It is quite possible that the Neufeld memo may be overruled by the courts on various technicalities (though in the opinion of this commentator, the reasons and rationale were sound).

It is interesting to look at some of the plaintiffs in the suit:

  • Company A has 89 H1B visa holders out of 95 employees
  • Company B employs 45 H1B visa holders out of a total staff of 50

 Now, if these firms were legitimate businesses, providing staffing to the IT industry, one would find a healthy proportion of US-based workers among their staff (Green Card holders and US Citizens). Why is it that they don’t employee either of these two categories of workers? One could argue that the business model is based on providing legal cover for imported labor, and not necessarily providing any consulting services per se. Another possibility is that wages are so poor that no one with a choice of working for another employer would prefer to work with such companies (H1B visa holders are in a period of indentured servitude until they get a Green Card; for some, this process takes over a decade).

March 13, 2010

Interview Shenanigans

Filed under: Information Technology,Management,Project Management — Jag @ 12:00 am
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I recently encountered two instances of resume and interview fraud. What surprised me was the sheer obviousness of the deception; at the very least, the interviewees could have been more sophisticated.

In the first instance, I interviewed a candidate with an impressive resume of eight pages for a .NET developer’s contract. The responses of the candidate in the phone interview were very choppy. Someone who did not have to exaggerate or make up the resume would speak clearly and without hesitation about what they had done. Intrigued, I looked to see if they were on LinkedIn, and sure enough they were. This is where the fun began.

This candidate claimed that they were a senior software developer at a company. In their profile on LinkedIn, the same job was noted as that of a junior programming intern. Secondly, the candidate claimed to work for various companies on their resume that was not borne out by their LinkedIn profile. I can understand that some people do not completely flesh out their LinkedIn profile, but in this instance the candidate claimed to be working for one employer on their resume, and another on LinkedIn during the same time period. And before anyone emails me that the two putative employers might have had a prime/sub relationship, I need to state that they appeared to be from completely separate industries!

A second form of fraud relates to a technique borrowed from “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”: phone a friend. A recent individual I spoke with tended to pause for 20-30 seconds before answering any complex question. The answer would then roll out in an instant (its a different matter that the answer was still incorrect). This led me to believe that the person was interviewing with a helper either available by email or in the same room with them. The 30 second gap was the time it took for the helper to understand the question, and scribble an answer which the candidate could then read out aloud.

There was another curious situation in our hiring process. We asked an interview question of candidates from one agency; let’s call it “When would you use if-then-else statements?”. The actual question was different and more sophisticated, but this captures the point. Subsequent resumes from the agency started showing up with phrases of the form “over four years’ experience in if-then-else statements”. I kid you not! Clearly, said agency was debriefing its interviewees, and adjusting resumes still in the pipeline to reflect what was being asked, but this effort was way too obvious, and appeared disingenous.

In discussing these issues with a colleague, he recounted to me another episode. This colleague was the manager on a project that wound down some time ago (the “Amazing Widgets” project).  A while ago, he received a call from another project manager. This individual was considering hiring “Fred”, who had stated in his resume that he worked on the Amazing Widgets project. Apparently, the description was fairly detailed. The hiring PM wanted to find out how well Fred did on Amazing Widgets. As it turns out, Fred never worked on Amazing Widgets. We never knew how Fred was able to pack Amazing Widgets experience on to his resume. Our best guess is that he copied and pasted an entire chunk of on-the-job experience from a friend or colleague that actually worked on the project.

Unfortunately, such instances of falsehood and exaggeration set up an adversarial relationship between a potential employer and a candidate even before the courtship dance has begun. Rather than view a candidate as a potential partner in a shared cause, the interviewer now considers their mission to be one of unmasking a duplicitous adversary. The candidate is guilty of fraud and deception until proven innocent.

My recommendations to interviewers hiring candidates for either temp or perm positions are:

  • Always do a web search (Facebook and LinkedIn are places to start; also look in programming forums to see what kinds of questions are being asked by the candidate). A strong individual has participated in some forum or the other that’s in Google’s cache
  • Look for fluency in answers… a person who answers in a  very “choppy” style should immediately raise a red flag
  • Discuss projects in a random sequence, and keep repeating past questions. A practised interviewee will have trouble responding. A truthful interviewee will sail through
  • Don’t allow time for pauses between questions and answers in an initial phone screen, to prevent sight-unseen googling or “phone-a-friend”
  • Always conduct a face-to-face interview, even for temporary positions

And to potential candidates, my message is:  It might take you longer to land a gig when you don’t falsify or exaggerate, but the benefits are priceless; apart from the obvious question of morality, it is trivially easy to keep your story straight, if you’re telling the truth.

March 10, 2010

Travails of an H1B Visa Holder

Filed under: India,Information Technology — Jag @ 3:39 pm
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Introduction

In this essay, I discuss the H1B lifecycle — how an aspirant first applies for an H1B job, then makes it into the USA. The lucky ones eventually get a “green card” that allows them to settle in the USA on a permanent basis. Through this lifecycle, I describe how unscrupulous consultants break the rules and pervert the intent of the H1B visa. I also provide some idea of the difficulty the temporary worker faces in their search for the holy grail — the “green card”.

I do not insinuate that every employer breaks the law. I work with many firms that represent H1B visa holders, and as far as I can tell they are pretty respectable and straightforward. Additionally, there are likely to be many fine, well-qualified individuals that are employed by IBM, Microsoft and various other large corporations that scrupulously adhere to the laws, and add value to their employer, and indeed their communities.  I have worked many individuals on H1B visas, and barring a few notable exceptions, I knew them to be honest people. In the interest of full disclosure: while I was never employed by a body shop, I did have an H1B visa in the ’90s.

With that said, I have worked with, and interviewed people who fit Ram’s persona below. None of this is fictional — it is all too real based on my own experience, and the experience of others, as documented on web sites such as http://www.goolti.com, and http://www.desicrunch.com.

In The Beginning — The Desire To Migrate

A prospective H1B employee in India (let’s call him Ram, the Indian equivalent of “Smith”) has a college education, either in Engineering or in the basic sciences together with a Master’s. During the late 90’s when the availability of skilled workers was at an all-time low, Ram would have been directly hired by US corporations who would send their interviewers to India. Today, few US corporations hire H1B visa holders, and fewer still hire them from India. This leaves Ram to try his luck with “body shops”.

The typical “body shop” is a paper corporation, run by an Indian who is either a permanent resident or naturalized citizen of the USA. The business of the body shop is to employ H1B visa holders who are then placed at various client sites, in exchange for an hourly fee. The body shop makes its money on the “spread” — the difference between what it earns for Ram’s services and what it has to pay Ram.

It is illegal for body shops to require candidates such as Ram to pay up-front for the costs of their H1B visa, and their return airfare to India in case things should go sour. They may however have a clause for liquidated damages in the employment contract, if Ram decides to switch employers once he has entered the USA. However that does not dissuade these shops from doing just that — charging in the neighborhood of $2000 — $3000 to apply for a visa for Ram. This money is usually paid in cash, or in any case without a legally traceable receipt. The body shop claims in its submission that it will be Ram’s employer.

There is a clause in the H1B paperwork (specifically the Labor Condition of Application or LCA) that H1B employees be paid the prevailing wages at their location of work. In any properly functioning market, the “spread” we discussed above is very small. To improve the odds in its favor, the body shop hires Ram into a drop-box office it has in obscure locations in Iowa and Maine, where prevailing wages for IT workers are likely to be very low. If Ram happens to get hired in NYC or Boston, where he can command a good hourly rate, the body shop makes a killing because it gets paid NYC rates, and has to pay Ram only Iowa or Maine rates.

Obtaining a Visa

H1B visas are limited in number. While in the early 2000’s, about 195,000 visas were allotted annually, as of 2010, the annual number is only 65,000. In regular, non-recession years the entire allotment of visas would run out within a few weeks of their allotment being made, typically in April for an October start.

Because the number of visas is much less than the number of applicants, the US immigration agency (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS) conducts a lottery among all valid applications to determine who gets the visa. Thus, it is in the interest of each body shop to apply for more visas than they need, in the hope that at least some of their applicants make it through the lottery.  If more applicants make it through the lottery than the body shop can place, they can always be subcontracted to other body shops (more on that later).

Assuming he is one of the fortunate 65,000, and that his “employer”, the body shop, hasn’t taken his $3000 and run, Ram proceeds to the next step. He uses the USCIS approval notice to get a visa sticker on his passport from the local US embassy or consulate. Ram is naturally apprehensive, given that three thousand dollars are riding on a successful visa interview. He therefore turns to a “visa consultant” to help him perfect his interview skills, and get his paperwork in order.

For a fee of $100-200, the visa consultant coaches Ram in the answers to provide to routine questions. If there are any lacunae in his paperwork, the visa consultant can point it out to Ram, and perhaps offer to fix it for a fee. Transcripts from universities, experience verification letters from past employers, indeed an entire employment history replete with office addresses and working phone numbers can be faked for a fee. The penalty for lying at the US embassy is high – up to a permanent disbarment from entering the USA. However the perceived benefits are so high that many still try their luck with a fraudulent application.

With some luck, Ram passes the visa interview, and is granted an H1B visa, valid for three years. At this point, Ram purchases his airplane tickets and packs his bags.  His employer has promised to pick him up at the airport, and to provide him temporary accommodation, euphemistically termed a “guest house”.

Arriving in the USA

When he arrives at JFK or Newark, Ram is not guaranteed automatic admission, based on his visa sticker. All that his visa has allowed him to do is to hop on a plane bound for the USA and show up before an immigration inspector. Here again, Ram’s papers are inspected, and if he’s lucky, he will be let in to serve out his three year visa term. If, on the other hand, the immigration inspector smells a rat, Ram will be put on a plane back to India, his approximately $4000 investment now being completely worthless.

The employer’s representative picks Ram up and takes him to a “guest house”. This is an apartment rented by the body shop that houses its employees who are in transit. The apartment is likely to be old and run down, close to downtown so Ram doesn’t have to commute, and packed with people, perhaps 2 to a room. A bare minimum of supplies is paid for by the employer and the employees are given a small stipend or nothing at all while they are on the bench. They are legally employed at this point, but are not billing their services out to a client. The rule for H1B visa holders is that they must get full pay during the time they are on the bench, but this is a rule followed more in the breach than in the observance. While Ram is looking for a job, he may end up working at a restaurant, grocery or a motel owned by a friend of the body shop’s principals, for a small under-the-table fee.

Job Search

The body shop runs various “training courses”. Many   such courses are of questionable quality and content, usually run by a bottom-dollar trainer, or an employee who also happens to be on the bench. The quality of the training notwithstanding, Ram is now in hock to the employer for the stated cost of the training. He must earn it back by committing to work for a certain number of months/years for the body shop.

Ram’s resume also undergoes revisions at this point. Typically, body shoppers start off a novice who has been trained with anywhere between 2-4 years of “experience”. The reasoning is that Ram will not get hired unless he shows some experience. Such experience can be easily manufactured, particularly if it is in India. Additionally, Ram is made to read books on the latest technologies, and his resume is reworked to show him to be an expert in those technologies which he just read about.

An employee on the bench costs money in food and rent, and does not bring in any profits. The body shop is anxious to place its employees. It does so in two ways. The first way is by leveraging any contacts the body shopper has with employers. Such contacts may be social, or through previously placed employees. Direct placement of employees is the preferred approach for the body shop, because there is no one else “skimming” Ram’s hourly billing.

Most likely, Ram’s employer will typically be a small shop with few, if any connections among the hiring managers of US corporations. Thus the body shop’s employees get contracted to another body shop, which has positions to be filled. Thus, Ram’s body shop now becomes a “buy side” shop, responsible for bringing in the employee and herding them through immigration. The new body shop is now the “sell side” shop, responsible for actually placing the individual. The “sell side” shop is often an American firm that has the right contacts at the right places.

This being Ram’s first job search in the US, his ability to respond to questions at interviews may not be finely honed yet. An experienced employee sits by Ram’s side while he is being interviewed. The employee either pretends to be Ram, or at the very least, listens to the question and provides cue cards for Ram with the right answers. This strategy will unravel if Ram is invited for an in-person interview, but typically, temporary positions don’t require one.

Remuneration

When Ram’s employer filed paperwork with the USCIS, they stated his salary in the application. Ram will not likely be paid the salary, especially if he is on the bench. When Ram is on the bench, the rules call for him to be paid, but economic realities of working for a small body shop make it likely that he will not be. Ram is in a bind, because the pay-stubs will be needed as proof that he is being paid. These pay-stubs will also be required for other immigration paperwork such as the H1B renewal and a possible “green card” application.

To solve this problem, Ram pays his employer a cash amount equivalent to his fortnightly paycheck. The employer runs this money through payroll, deducts the necessary taxes, and issues Ram a “paycheck”. Ram now has the requisite documentation to show that he is fully employed, though he is poorer by the amount of taxes to be paid.

At least in the initial stages, when Ram is on an H1B visa, his employer does not reveal his billing rate to Ram. Depending on how Ram is billed out, there might be two levels of body shop taking their cut before Ram sees a dime. As Ram becomes experienced, he will find other body shops that offer 70/30, 80/20 or 90/10 terms. The first number refers to the percentage of Ram’s billing rate that will be paid to him. The second number is the overhead and profit retained by the employer.

Getting By On The Job

Contracts through body shops are likely to last between 3-6 months. Some lucky H1B visa holders get contracts of longer than six months. Regardless, they go where their job takes them. Thus, Ram cannot lay down roots in any area of the USA. He will be required to travel to whichever city provides him a contract. It works well if Ram is either single, or married with a nonworking spouse. It gets extremely difficult if he has a school-age child. But the American dream is such that he soldiers on.

Ram was likely placed in a programming position for a technology that he barely knows. And sooner or later, when Ram runs into trouble with his lack of knowledge, he turns to Google for help in finding answers. Ram’s body shop might also provide the cell phone number of a more experienced employee, or even one of the principals to call in case he runs into an insurmountable problem. After all, the body shop has a vested interest in the continuation of Ram’s contract.

The Green Card Process

Ram puts up with a low salary, uncertainty, travel, and constant change for one big reason – the ability to eventually obtain a “green card”. The green card (which is actually yellow in color) will allow Ram to stay in the USA indefinitely, and seek employment with any company. At that point, Ram will be finally freed of the shackles of his body shop, and free to seek unrestricted employment. But getting there takes a long time, and for citizens of India and China, perhaps a decade or longer.

The green card process begins with Ram convincing the US Department of Labor that he is not taking a job from an American citizen or permanent resident. This is typically done by creating a job advertisement, and advertising as directed by the DOL. If no candidates are to be found, then Ram gets his “labor certification”. Often, to facilitate this process, the body shop’s immigration lawyers will create a job profile which is so unique that Ram is the only person who could possibly fill it.

While it is in Ram’s interest to get a green card as quickly as possible, the body shop’s interest is exactly the opposite. Ram cannot leave easily if he has an H1B visa. He can leave at a moment’s notice with a green card. Therefore, the longer it takes for Ram to get his green card, the better the chances that the body shop will continue to make money off him.

After the “labor certification”, Ram gets through additional paperwork, and eventually enters a long queue for a “visa number”. Employment-based immigration is restricted to a certain number each year, and no country may claim over 7% of the quota in any categories. This puts Ram at a significant disadvantage if he was born in India or China. Both these countries have a disproportionate number of applicants compared to the visas available. For example, for persons born in India and that possess bachelors’ degrees, in 2010, visas are being allotted to individuals that applied in 2001. Individuals with a graduate degree have it a little easier – their waiting list is a mere six years instead of nine. But neither of these means anything to Ram, because the backlog is so huge starting around 2004 that his application is likely to be pending for a couple decades. Ram’s only hope of getting a green card lies in entering the queue, and hoping for immigration reform legislation, which will increase the number of employment-based green cards.

While Ram is in his decades-long wait, he is beholden to his employer. He may not leave his “sponsoring employer” except in very specific circumstances, towards the end of his wait (in immigration jargon, this is called “AC-21 Portability”). Ram cannot accept increases in salary or promotions during this period. He is thus, likely to suffer a significant decrease in pay in inflation-adjusted terms. Additionally, Ram has to reach a certain milestone in his green card application called the “I-485 stage” before his H1B visa expires. If his visa expires before Ram can get to this stage, it is case closed – Ram must leave the country and start the process all over again. Ram and his lawyers will try many strategies to prolong his stay while the green card wait is continuing. One possible option Ram has is to immigrate to Canada, which has a much smaller wait – only three years or so.

Reaching The Ultimate Goal

Assuming that Ram has managed to hang on until the green card arrives, he becomes a “free agent’ in the job market, at liberty to choose his employer and place of residence. At this point, assuming that jobs are available and the economy is not in recession, Ram is finally able to earn market levels of pay. If he stays on the right side of the law for another five years, Ram can hope to become an American citizen.

November 9, 2009

US Consulate warns visa aspirants

Filed under: India,Information Technology — Jag @ 5:46 pm

Its open knowledge that the H1B visa offers significant opportunities for fraud. Now the US Consulate in Chennai has finally taken notice, with its warning to visa seekers.

Visa fraud is so rampant, that anyone either Stateside in the USCIS or in the consulates can pick out fraud cases all day without stirring from their desks. Some examples that I’ve come across:

  • The 80/20 or 90/10 scam: “Consulting” companies in the US will offer to do  your H1B and Green Card paperwork for you, run payroll, and generally give you legal cover in exchange for 10-20% of your billing rate. What makes this scam illegal is that there is no real job. The consultant creates a fake job to get you in. Then, you find your own consulting gig on Dice.com or similar sites, and have your “consultant” do the billing. If you’re on the bench and you need to show income, then just hand your “consultant” a bunch of money that he will then run through the payroll system and hand back to you.
  • Fake experience: You can find any number of screen printers in Chennai and Bangalore who are expert at creating fake experience letters on absolutely-perfect looking letterheads. And if someone does attempt to verify, just give them a friend or cousin’s phone number. When they call, your relative can verify your fake credentials easily.
  • Bank statements: There is a requirement when obtaining an F-1 visa to show a sufficient amount of money to support yourself in the US. This is easily taken care of by a very short term loan from the neighborhood shylock.

Ultimately what’s shocking is not the fact that the US Consulate thought it fit to write a rather stern open letter. What is shocking is that so few cases are prosecuted, either at the USCIS or the Consulate level. All that an interested USCIS enforcement officer has to do is to browse over to sulekha.com, look at the classifieds all day, and start shutting these operations down one at a time. At consulates, an easy way to detect fraud — check to see if the degree matches the job. Someone with a Bachelor of Arts or Commerce or Bachelor of Science in Zoology asking for an H1B for an IT job should set alarm bells ringing fairly easily.

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