The 5th installment of the New York Times’ Remade in America involves highly skilled foreign born workers in companies on the move.  Sanjay  Mavinkurve is highlighted in this segment of the series.  Sanjay works for Google but lives in Canada with his foreign born wife.  Isn’t Google located in Silicon Valley in California?  Yes, as well as many cities around the world. 


Sanjay was born to middle class working parents in Bombaby.  The family moved to Saudi Arabia soon after his birth.  Sanjay loved everything American, from toys to Niki shoes.  He and his brother both were awarded scholarships to a private school in Cleveland.   Sanjay excelled academically and made 1560 out of 1600 on SATs.  He headed to Harvard and excelled there.  He was quiet, friendly, worked hard (scrubbing dorm toilets for spending money) and hung an American flag on his wall.  He worried that his student visa would expire. 


While at Harvard, Sanjay and friends built a computer site that college students could hook into.  Samnjay wrote the code as a computer science major.  The team eventually disbanded but their work evolved into Facebook.







After graduation, Sanjay was hired by Google in 2003, after graduation from Harvard.  He was a product manager and worked on Google tool bar, Google maps and Google news.  He was known as the person to make things simple and easy to use.  Yet he still worried about his immigration status.


Some background from the article:


Still, he had ample reason to worry about his visa status, given the limits on how many visas are issued for skilled immigrant labor.


It is a category whose significance has been growing since the 1920s, when politicians and business executives started recognizing the value of skilled immigrants. After World War II, companies began actively recruiting scientists, among them Nobel Prize winners, from around the world.


The emphasis on skilled labor was codified in the Hart-Celler Immigrant Act of 1965, which said that for 20 percent of immigration spots, candidates with certain skills would get preference to stay indefinitely, though that 20 percent also included the family members of those skilled immigrants.


(At the time, 74 percent of visas were given to people to be reunited with family members here and 6 percent for political refugees from the Eastern Hemisphere.)


Reflecting the growing importance of technology — and responding to industry lobbying — in 1990 Congress set aside 65,000 temporary work visas, known as H-1B visas, for skilled workers. The visas, which are sponsored by companies on behalf of employees, permit three years of work, with an automatic three-year extension.


The limit was raised twice as the technology sector boomed, to 115,000 in 1999 and to 195,000 in 2001. But those temporary increases were not renewed for 2004, and the number of H-1B visas reverted to 65,000. (There are an additional 20,000 H1-B’s for people with graduate degrees from American universities.)


Since 2004, there has been a growing gap between the number of H-1B visas sought and those granted, through a lottery. In 2008, companies made 163,000 applications for the 65,000 slots. Google applied for 300 of them; 90 were denied.


In 2004, Mr. Mavinkurve was one of the lucky ones. “You can be very proud,” said the congratulatory e-mail message he received from an immigration lawyer at Google.


Good fortune followed at Google. In honor of the country that made it possible, on June 14, 2004, Flag Day, Mr. Mavinkurve made a laser print of an American flag and taped it to a white board in a Google hallway. The flag remains.


When Google went public that August, Mr. Mavinkurve was on his way to becoming a multimillionaire.  “I remember quantifying: for each dollar the stock goes up, I make more than my mother and father make together in a whole month at work,” he said.  Indeed, recent immigrants like those at Google have been successful.


Sanjay’s problem was he fell in love.  His wife did not have a visa and could not work in the United States, so the couple resides in Canada and Sanjay commutes.  He is valuable enough to Google for them to make accommodations for Sanjay and his wife. 


Silicon Valley has the most successful immigration stories in the world.

While not always successful, companies like Google work to get the number of visas they need. 


 Many innovators in Silicon Valley come from overseas; 42 percent of engineers with master’s degrees and 60 percent of those with engineering Ph.D.’s in the United States are foreign-born.


Foreigners also spur innovation by broadening understanding of consumers abroad. For instance, on the advice of Chinese-born workers, Google dotted its mobile maps for China with fast-food restaurants, which locals use as navigational landmarks.  When Google cannot get visas for people it wants to hire, it seeks to accommodate them in overseas offices, like the bureaus in Britain and Brazil from which map-team members attend meetings via video conference.


Many people who deny they are anti-immigration don’t feel that our immigration laws need to be reformed and modernized to fit the needs of our country.  They feel that these are jobs that Americans need to be taking.  In a global society, the international workers are in great demand and sophisticated companies ignore the more provincial politics that somehow thwart their efforts to be able to hire the world’s most talented highly skilled workers.


In the case of Sanjay, he was educated in the United States.  Why should our ridiculous immigration rules send him to another country?  We should be guarding our talent.  It is the diversity that makes America stronger.  After all, Google stock shares are selling for $372.50.  That just isn’t too shabby.


Click to read more about highly skilled workers on visas in the N Y Times.


Click to hear the voices of visa holders.  WARNING:  The voices are in English!






27 Thoughts to “Remade in America Part V: Tech Businesses Clash with Immigration Laws”

  1. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    Bom!, Baby!!

  2. Alanna

    What does that mean?

    Companies like Microsoft have moved their headquarters to Canada because of difficulties working with US Immigration policies. Allowing these students a Harvard education and then not allowing them an opportunity to stay here if they wish seems senseless. What Canada is going to benefit from our Harvard graduates? We could have a citizen that develops another Facebook application in the United States but instead the next Microsoft or Cisco will be opening somewhere else.

    This is yet another example of a broken immigration system.

  3. GainesvilleResident

    I assume you mean companies similar to Microsoft and not Microsoft itself. Their headquarters are still in Redmond, WA as they have always been.

  4. GainesvilleResident

    The bigger problem is companies outsourcing outside the USA for cheap labor. IBM is a perfect example of this and many people I know who used to work for IBM have had their jobs moved to places like India, and actually had to train their replacement cheap labor before being laid off.

  5. GainesvilleResident

    Technological companies have no need to bring the labor here – these days the technology exists and it is cheaper to just hire the labor in the country they are in currently – no immigration laws need apply.

  6. Rick Bentley

    1. He actually has the ability to stay here. It’s just that his wife can’t work here. What are you advocating – that every rule we set down be broken at will if the person seems bright enough to you? Or that every married person gain every privilege that singles cannot?

    2. I work in software engineering and have worked with many people, some friends, who are on or have been on H1-Bs and similar visas. It’s not all sweetness and light. They’re treated somewhat like indentured servants and not able to leave their job for a better one, thereby losing bargaining position, and frequently sit manning dead end jobs and jobs that require massive uncompensated overtime that nobody at their skill level really wants. Though probably there are lots of Americans who would aspire to those jobs if someone would help train them.

    3. I want to stress that Facebook is not a technological acheivement, this is not analogous to the scientists who emigrated here and built the A-bomb. Facebook was a good idea. Having had the idea, next a team is hired to implement it. I like the idea of American citizens like me doing those jobs in America. I think that the Bill Gates’ of the world really have many of you fooled into thinking that we don’t have enough technical people in America – the question really is, how much should those workers be paid and should they have to compete with other nations’ citizens.

    The number of vias granted should be based on studies and facts, not on Bill Gates and other employers’ insatiable appetites for cheaper labor in all areas.

  7. Alanna

    I agree with #2. I have made the point myself that they could very easily be treated unfairly by unscrupulous employers. That’s why changes are needed. The visa should not be held by the employer but rather the employee.

    #3. It’s a money making, job creating technology that’s why we should want it.

    Today’s a busy day for me, Happy Easter.

  8. Rick Bentley

    Having now read the story :

    1. I’m glad the story presented the other side of the arguement. People need to hear it. This is part and parcel of whether we want to promote investment in America, or not. If you’re an American company, should you have incentive to hire Americans? Or should someone like me – I finished in the 99th percentile in every area on my college entrance exam, though the New York Times has never featured me in an article – have to compete for high wages with everyone from India, China, Europe, etc. who can get over here?

    2. The guy in question does strike me, and I would think strikes many Americans, as a spoiled self-important jerk. He is more or less begging to work here, and wants to call our laws “dumb”? A bit nervy if you ask me. I don’t see him going back towards his Bombay slum, or towards Canada. The law is not “dumb”, the problem is that this self-proclaimed genius made an agreement and then wants to change the terms of it … we don’t need this guy here. I wouldn’t want to work with him, for him, or have him work for me. I hope he loses his Visa. I resent someone sitting and telling us how to run our country when they frankly DO NOT BELONG HERE. We do NOT ned people like this here. Don’t let Bill Gates tell you otherwise.

  9. Poor Richard

    BVBL and ANTIBVBL may duel to doomsday – Horrible criminal
    illegal immigrant story countered by the good hardworking valuable
    undocumented immigrant who just wants to have and help build
    “The American Dream” story. And round and round. A political
    decision based totally on either view would be a mistake.
    We must make our decisions on rational facts and research
    on what is best for our nation’s future and not on emotion.
    Those who contribute and “add value” should have a pathway to
    citizenship. Those who don’t – should return to their country
    of origin.

  10. Rick Bentley

    Alanna, right now the employer must “sponsor” the employee for the Visa, and pays some not-insubstantial fee to do so. So yeah, they have those guys on lockdown for a few years. It’s all relative, it’s not exactly working in a sweatshop or picking out crab meat in Thailand, but they have no real ability to tell their employer no I will not do that.

    And to elaborate on #3, we’re not short on ideas. What this fight is really about is the technicians who are deployed in teams to implement those ideas. You pay 10 highly qualified guys 100K a year to work building a high-traffic web-oriented site or capability, that’s an investment of a million dollars. This is all about shaving the wages paid to 80% or so of that. Even if it depresses the wages of American engineers.

    Building Facebook went way beyond this guy’s college project, and surely involved an investment of tens of millions at least.

  11. Rick Bentley

    This mirrors the whole illegal immigration debate in a way. It’s about the contempt that our ruling class feels towards paying American workers wages that they deem “too high” and inventing mechanisms to lower wages, and then mass-marketing them as charity and good will.

  12. Rick Bentley

    “You pay 10 highly qualified guys 100K a year ”

    Sexism alert! Sorry.

  13. Censored bybvbl

    Rick, my BIL is an IT guy too and faces the same battle – staying employed at a wage to which US citizens have become accustomed. As long as the technology is so easily employed practically anywhere, how do you see US citizens maintaining a high wage? How do you keep companies from relocating to avoid paying higher salaries?

    Our government thought one of the best ways to fight Communism was to make more countries want to follow our capitalist example. Well, they have. And at this point they’re producing goods and labor at a cheaper rate. How do we realistically change it? Or can we?

  14. Moon-howler

    It could also be about talent. I hope no one gets their toes stepped on but companies settling in out in Silicon Valley really can afford to attract the best and brightest globally. Are they saving money? I seriously doubt it.

    Facebook, no, not equivalent to making the A bomb but it sure made someone a boatload of money. And to the victor go the spoils. I guess I must ask that all important question: Did any of the naysayers here create it?

    Make no mistake, Google is not looking around for smart people and unable to come up with any. It is a stone’s throw from Stanford University. I actually have a very close family member who went to the very area to seek his fortune–making investment money off the techs. For starters, I don’t think that people who live there ever feel like they have arrived. There is always the need to make more and more money. However, cities like Mountain View, Palo Alto, Los Altos, are full of people who are making huge amounts of money because they are on the cutting edge.

    I am opposed to outsourcing. That is not highly skilled technical help. Companies like Google want to keep qualified skilled workers so they aren’t competing with them. Unless we want to start the policy of refusing to educate foreign students in our universities, we had better get used to our companies being able to hire the best and the brightest. You want Einstein working for the other guys? I don’t think so.

    Not everyone smart was born and bred in America.

  15. Rick Bentley

    “As long as the technology is so easily employed practically anywhere, how do you see US citizens maintaining a high wage? How do you keep companies from relocating to avoid paying higher salaries?”

    A. As in the Clinton years, we should stop giving tax breaks to reward companies who outsource or ship jobs overseas. Use the tax code to encourage investment in America.

    B. A lot of the more technical jobs can’t really go over there because the engineers over there are relatively inexperienced and between that and the language issues, tend to do poor, junior-league work on projects shipped over there. This has become more obvious over time. They (I’m thinking mainly of India here) have a pool of people who can theoretically create computer code, but are inexperienced at harnessing that into teams that can effectively create what customers need. The idea that we would ship a lot of engineering work to India was a popular one 10 years ago, much less so now. Phone call centers though, unfortunately, are being shipped there.

    Our military spending supported lots of high-tech growth and we have a technology base and a nexus of skilled and experienced workers that no one else can really build up.

    Again, Facebook is just an idea. If some person in India thought it up and implemented it first, someone here could just take the idea, maybe improve it, and advertise theirs and co-opt the “market” for it. Frankly Facebook and MySpace are pretty much the same thing, aren’t they?

    Moon-howler you miss my point. The next “Einstein” is just not a suitable analogy. There are people with ideas, and people with technical skills. We don’t target the Temp Visas to people with “ideas”, but with specific technical skills. There’s nothing on their application forms about “ideas” or “original thought”. They are brought in for specific skills – not management skills, not testing skills, not marketing or conceptualization. They are here to write code in Java, C++, SQL, etc. etc.

  16. Rick Bentley

    And 99.9% of the time they are just producing a physical manifestation of someone else’s “idea”.

  17. Rick Bentley

    Ideas are in much more plentiful supply than the money is to pay the engineers to implement them.

  18. Rick Bentley

    And for the record, I witnessed several small projects being shipped to India, and what cama back being totally unusable, to the tune of 2-3 million dollars worth of work I think. They produced software that just didn’t do what it was supposed to do, and on another occasion documents that were unusable.

  19. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    Bom!, Baby! is just referring to first sentence, second paragraph, last word. Wasn’t trying to be “correcty correcterson”, just having some fun with it!

  20. Moon-howler

    I don’t think anyone here is endorsing outsourcing American jobs. On the other hand, bringing highly skilled workers to this country at company expense is quite another thing. It is also something we aren’t going to be able to afford NOT doing.

    Look at what is happening in the medical fields, specifically in geriatric medicine. Those skilled health care providers are using up part of 65,000 H1-B visas alotted. More and more people will be required as the population ages. Right now, many skilled workers are brought in from various countries in Africa. Why? There aren’t enough skilled workers here to fill all the jobs needed.

  21. Alanna

    Like it or not, we have to find a way to be successful in a global economy. We either retain the best and brightest after their ivy league educations or we lose them. Restrictionist policies won’t serve the United States well in a global marketplace.

    Also, I’d just like some recognition from some of the posters here that these policies were not prevalent prior to 9/11. There have been significant changes to immigration policy that apparently needs review and alterations.

  22. Rick Bentley

    Medicine I can’t speak to. Makes sense to me to let people in who have real genius. Most of the visas are for software developers.

  23. Moon-howler

    Rick, we probably agree on some of this. If there are software developers here in ample supply, well that is a different story. I know we had (3 years ago) real medical shortages. I know there are teacher shortages in some areas. They get 3 year visas. One from Hungary rides to school with one of my best friends. At the end of 3 years, she is out of here unless something changes. Her husband is unable to work.

    I didn’t feel Sanjay was an arrogant little snot but…perhaps he was. Maybe you can spot arrogant snots easier than I can in that field.

    I think we ought to do for our country, that which helps our country. If we need more chefs, open up that field. If we need more circus performers, open up that field. It takes a number of years to home grow them.

  24. GainesvilleResident

    Software produced in India is a nightmare, particularly to maintain it. They write their code differently than we would – and it is very hard to debug their code or make changes to it. Having had to deal with IBM code produced in India on my current job, and uncovering a bug in it which eventually took IBM several man-months and many conference calls and so on to solve, I know first-hand what a mess the code can be. What’s worse is that IBM actually accepted this buggy code and put it in one of their flagship software products. Let’s put it this way – the bug was so bad and halted a major Raytheon project that IBM placed a division Vice President on location at Raytheon’s Reston location for 2 months to coordinate solving the problem, since IBM’s own programmers could not make head or tail of this cryptic code nor could they figure out how to fix this show-stopping bug.

  25. Moon-howler

    Gainesville, isn’t that outsourcing though? It sounds to me like another case of poisoned pet food, except this time it is software.

    Aren’t we better off in the long educating and keeping foreign workers here? What am I missing here? Weren’t Einstein, Oppenheimer, Von Braun all immigrant workers? Why would we want to have to compete with those brainiacs?

  26. Elena

    But poor Richard, historically speaking, who has ever fit into that category? Almost every nationality, at one time or another, has been resoundingly rejected. The Italians, the Jews, the Poles, the Asians, the Irish. The only ones not rejected have been from England and the Scandanavian countries. How do we determine value? Is it that they make alot of money and earn PHD’s? Or is it other qualities, hard work, family committment, kindness to neighbors? @Poor Richard

  27. Elena

    Oh, I wanted to wish my good friend Chuck a Happy Easter, full of peace and patience. I know he is struggling with some inner conflict right now, but from my heart, I truly hope that he can come to a place of peace and calm. There is this favorite saying of mine….. peace does not come when there is no dilema or crisis before us, true inner peace comes in spite of those things.

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