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163,000 applications for U.S. H-1b visas were filed this year, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Most of these applicants will be disappointed, as the regular H-1b cap is 65,000. Those whose H-1b applications are approved can expect to begin hearing from from USCIS in June.
For the SAP market in particular, the high number of H-1b applicants suggests that the pool of consultants, developers, and other members of the SAP ecosystem is growing outside the U.S., and badly wants entry into this market. While the U.S. economy suffers from the mortgage fallout, high energy prices, and eroding consumer confidence, the rise in H-1b applications indicate that foreigners continue to prize economic opportunity in this country. Last year, by contrast, there were only 133,000 H-1b applications.
A serious question that has to be asked about the 30,000 new applicants is–where did they come from in only a year? H-1b holders typically apply to technical jobs that can require at least 5 to 7 years of operational experience. It’s a long curve. Thus, in a single year, one wouldn’t expect this many qualified new workers to have come online. A possible answer is that certification mills in India, and even less scrupulous companies who help their clients manufacture false experience in technologies such as SAP, have turned out tens of thousands of new H-1b aspirants who lack substantive experience or competence.
What’s the hard evidence for this possibility? Admittedly, it’s anecdotal. If you subscribe to any of the large SAP email groups, you’ll notice the high volume of messages from people whose ability in SAP (or Oracle, or PeopleSoft, for that matter) is quite limited, and who are actively looking for ways to fudge their credentials and experience. Some of these people have no idea of what to expect in actual SAP interviews, and ask more experienced workers on the message boards to help them bluff their way through.
Based on our talk with SAP Labs India, it seems likely that the most talented and experienced IT workers in India have already been snapped up by multinationals based in India, or absorbed into the U.S. and/or Europe during the IT workforce crisis that began before Y2K and ended a few years later. Therefore, the people who are not working in the field now — i.e., the H-1b applicants — are likely to be new graduates, employed in fields tangential to enterprise applications, or, frankly, less skilled than their employed counterparts. This population is a far cry from the highly skilled tech workforce that Bill Gates says is supposed to rescue America’s position in the global economy. It’s more likely to be represented by the person who wrote to an SAP email group this morning that he would like to “brush up” on SAP FI…despite being a Flash designer with no experience in either accounting or SAP.
SAP customers should find this kind of situation frightening, just as patients who learn that their prospective doctors are house painters who “brushed up” on surgery last week would be frightened. Unfortunately, in the wild world of tech, there is no strict system of governance to ensure that people have the skills they say they have. In an ideal world, the 163,000 2008 H-1b applicants would all conform to a minimum standard and truly add value to the global economy, but one wonders how many of them are in fact viable workers.
Demir Barlas, Site Editor