World / Reporter's Journal

Silicon Valley can't forget to have a heart

By Chang Jun (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-19 11:26

There is no scarcity of compelling stories about entrepreneurship in the Bay Area.

And behind legends, fame and fortunes, we need to recognize and acknowledge the contributions and sacrifices foreign-born tech professionals have made to make America strong.

Silicon Valley can't forget to have a heart

Last week, I conducted an informal survey among my friends of Chinese and Indian heritage who work at leading tech companies.

One particular question I asked, purely out of curiosity, was: What is your dinner time? I've been led to understand that one of the perks Silicon Valley tech firms take great pride in providing their employees is free meals.

The feedback I got, however, only reminded me of the famous saying: "Capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt."

Here is a list of dinner times at a few unicorn or well-established firms: Employees at Facebook can start to eat at 5:45 pm; Airbnb at 6; Google at 6:30; Apple at 7; and Uber not until 8:15 pm.

Ride-sharing app Uber has dominated its industry since its inception in 2009 and was recently valued at $51 billion. But competition from home and abroad - Lyft and Curb in the US; Didi and Kuaidi in China; Grab in Malaysia and Ola in India - is fierce.

With some of those dinner times, I can't help but wonder how late those employees with families and young children will get home?

Probably no one would argue that a nation's overall competitiveness relies heavily on the quality and quantity of its most talented people. As a result, public and private sectors the world over vie with each other using tempting salary and benefit packages to identify and lure exceptional pros.

In the US, the technology sector in particular faces a severe talent shortage which obstructs its continuous development, according to a recent Gartner report.

The White House said there were more than half a million IT job openings to date, a rapidly increasing demand for techies who are able to design, develop and deliver solutions rapidly and repeatedly.

By 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer engineering job openings, according to the US Department of Labor. And American universities and colleges are unlikely to graduate enough qualified students to fill even 30 percent of those slots.

Over the years, corporate America has been able to sponsor foreign-born workers to apply for H-1B visas and let the highly-skilled from overseas fill the gaps in the workforce.

US businesses use the H-1B program to employ foreign workers in occupations that require highly specialized knowledge in fields such as science, engineering and computer programming, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Agency (USCIS).

Each year, the federal government mandates a cap of 65,000 general H-1B visas and 20,000 H-1B visas for those holding degrees of a master's or above. The availability can be exhausted within a few days of the window opening.

During the filing period last year, the USCIS received almost 233,000 H-1B applications.

On April 7, the agency announced that it reached the H-1B cap in both categories and used a computer-generated lottery system to randomly select the petitions.

"The 15-day processing period plus waiting for the lottery outcome is an ordeal for any client," said Lihua Tan, an immigration attorney with Chugh law firm. "I've witnessed too many joys and sorrows. If not awarded the H-1B visa, the affected will lose his or her job and have to leave America."

Moreover, being granted the H-1B work permit does not guarantee a happy-ending, said Tan. The common practice for tech giants is to use cheap labor on demand and suppress their wages.

Ron Hira, a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute, said tech employers hold the work permits through this program, and that gives the company extraordinary leverage over a foreign worker and limits their mobility. Companies can pay $30,000 a year less to a worker on an H-1B visa that remains valid for six years.

Silicon Valley is well known for being the epicenter of invention and innovation but it should not be the land of a ruthless and unethical business culture.

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