Crossing the border

Additional visas to skilled immigrants pose threat to black technology professionals

There are over 800,000 available positions in the technology sector, so one could rationalize that anyone with a computer science degree that is serious about the field should have a fair chance. Some people question if that’s truly the case for African American IT professionals.

More than 6% of the total African American population majored in computer science in 1995, compared to 3.79% of whites. Still, African Americans represent less than 7% of professionals in the technology field, vs. 87% represented by whites.

Congress wants to increase the amount of visas allotted to foreign skilled workers to fill the job openings. The Coalition for Fair Employment in Silicon Valley and the National Urban League think it’s a form of discrimination and a cheap way out.

The Coalition, a group composed of leaders of professional organizations promoting the employment of African Americans in the high-tech industry, has lobbied Congress against pending bills seeking to raise the limit on the number of H1-B visas issued annually.

For 2000 the visa program has a cap of 115,000 visas, a number reached in March. The cap drops to 107,500 for the year beginning October 1, 2000, and to 65,000 per year thereafter. Bills calling for more visas gained momentum in Congress last spring with plans to boost the number of visas by at least 350,000 over three years.

“There are many Americans, who, if given the opportunity would be able to go into IT jobs, but because of lack of training are not prepared. We want the nation to invest in the training of these citizens,” says National Urban League executive vice president, Milton J. Little Jr.

Accused of secretly seeking to lower labor costs, high-tech companies charge that there is a shortage of qualified Americans, leaving them with no other choice than to look to places like India and China for workers. That view led several high-tech executives, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, to lobby Congress this summer for an increase in available visas, which allow foreigners to work up to six years in the States. Jason Mahler, vice president and general counsel for the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represents tech companies such as Oracle, comments, “We support an increase in the number of visas because there are jobs that need to be filled. It would do the industry little good to discriminate given the need for workers.”

Nevertheless, the Coalition for Fair Employment in Silicon Valley, formed in 1998 in response to a San Francisco Chronicle report shedding light on the then-new phrase “digital divide,” argues that discrimination does exist. The group cites its 1999 report, Silicon Ceiling: Solutions for Closing the Digital Divide, which states that approximately 80% of Silicon Valley companies do not file EEO-1 forms or affirmative action reports with federal civil rights enforcement agencies.

Diversity in Silicon Valley is a multifaceted topic. As companies complain of a worker shortage and minority groups push for more inclusion in the ranks, education becomes a potential solution.

“The industry needs to find a way to interest more underrepresented

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