In a scare story in today’s New York Times, we’re told that even high-end software jobs are vulnerable to “migrating abroad”:
In the debate over high-technology work migrating abroad, there has been widespread agreement on at least one thing: the jobs requiring higher levels of skill are the least at risk.
However, it seems that Microsoft has “agreed to pay two Indian outsourcing companies, Infosys and Satyam, to provide skilled “software architects” for Microsoft projects.”
But those architects are working where? “At Microsoft facilities in the United States.” They’re Indian citizens who come in on H1-B visas to work for the company. That’s offshore? Only if you consider Redmond to be “offshore” of Seattle (which, I imagine, many do, but that’s a separate issue).
U.S. software companies have been bringing citizens of other countries here on H1-B visas for years to work on projects, frequently for very high-end work. The number of these visas has dropped: From nearly 200,000 in 2002 and more than 300,000 in 2003, the H1-B cap dropped back to 65,000 in October of last year. (This fact sheet shows data from the Bureau of Citizen and Immigration Services through 2003; and this article discusses the cap. The Wall Street Journal also discussed it in March of this year, but that article is available only to paid subscribers.)
So, there’s no news here — the practice is nothing new — and the description of this as “offshoring” is questionable. Is it “offshoring” because Microsoft is paying an Indian company to supply the workers? Is it therefore also “offshoring” when a U.S. company hires consultants from Accenture, which risks losing a a big homeland security contract because it’s based in Bermuda?
The Times got the story from The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers , a CWA-backed activist group supporting the rights of technology workers. (And good for them, but let’s try to keep our facts in line.) Surprisingly, the organization’s article on the topic is a little more balanced, pointing out that nothing indicates the consultants replaced U.S. workers, and they are being paid U.S. wages for the work. WashTech’s concern seems to be that Microsoft has been aggressively pushing managers to send work offshore, and the contract workers may be part of a larger plan to train high-level architects here, then send them back to India to run projects for Microsoft there. That might be an interesting “offshoring” story, but it’s not what the Times wrote.