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!