Category Archives: Tech

H-1B Visas and Trump: Round-up of My Recent WSJ Stories

2017 03 05USAlights

I’ve been writing a lot in the last few months about the H-1B skilled worker visa program, which thousands of people, mainly Indians, use to work in the U.S.

The program was designed to allow companies to hire workers for jobs they can’t fill locally, like those demanding sophisticated tech skills. But some say firms, like large Indian outsourcing companies with offices in the U.S., abuse the program to bring in less sophisticated workers as cost-saving measures — and lay off American workers — since they’ll do jobs for less than money.

It’s a huge issue not just for big American tech firms that want to be able to hire the best global talent, but also for Indian IT services firms that employ millions of people.

And with President Trump on the campaign trail assailing the program, many workers are concerned that changes to the program could force them to leave the country.

That’s the subject of my most recent story, which came out Monday. The headline: “Indian Workers in U.S. Fear Trump H-1B Visa Crackdown.

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They story — which I reported out for weeks, interviewing dozens of people — has produced quite a reaction online, prompting more than 450 comments on The WSJ site, and more than 800 reactions, 230 shares and 150 comments on Facebook.

Stay tuned for more on this topic.

Meanwhile, so they’re all in one place, I wanted to share links to some of my previous H-1B-related stories:

What the White House Said About Its Plans for H-1B Visas (Jan. 31, 2017):

Tighter restrictions on skilled worker visas to the U.S. could come via both executive action by President Donald Trump and via Congressional moves, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday.

Indian IT services firms are already girding for possible changes to the H-1B program, which they use to send tens of thousands of workers to the U.S. annually.

While a significant shakeup of the visa program would likely need to be approved by Congress, President Trump could use an executive directive to take steps like ending a provision announced in 2014 that allows spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S, as The Wall Street Journal reported last week.

H-1B Visas: How Donald Trump Could Change America’s Skilled Worker Visa Rules (Jan. 24, 2017):

During his campaign, President Donald Trump assailed a skilled-worker visa program used to send foreigners to the U.S., and in his inaugural speech Friday he said the country would “follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American.”

Indian outsourcing firms are already preparing for potential changes to visa rules, which could present a challenge because they send thousands of workers to the U.S. every year via the H-1B program.

So how much, and how quickly, could Mr. Trump change the regulations?

A significant shakeup would likely need to be approved by Congress, though there are some steps Mr. Trump could take himself immediately, analysts say.

Indian Outsourcing Firms Prep for Curbs on H-1B Visa Workers Under Trump (Jan. 19, 2017):

NEW DELHI—President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t take office in Washington until Friday, but he is already forcing firms in India’s mammoth $108 billion technology-outsourcing industry to rethink their hiring practices in the U.S., their largest market.

While Mr. Trump has chastised U.S. firms for offshoring American jobs, Indian outsourcing firms could be set to see renewed heat for doing the opposite—placing foreign workers in the U.S., mainly through a skilled-worker visa, known as the H-1B. Faced with the prospect of possible new curbs on those visas from a president who has pledged to ensure that Americans get their first pick of available jobs, outsourcers are ramping up hiring both on American college campuses and at home in India.

H-1B Visas: U.S. Lawmaker Re-Introduces Bill to Tighten Rules (Jan. 6, 2017):

A prominent Republican lawmaker is taking another shot at tightening U.S. rules for high-skilled worker visas ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president later this month.

Rep. Darrell Issa, one of the highest-profile Republicans in Congress and a supporter of Mr. Trump, said Wednesday in a statement on his website that he is reintroducing a bill designed to “stop the outsourcing of American jobs” and ensure laws are not “abused to allow companies to outsource and hire cheap foreign labor from abroad.”

What Will Happen to H-1B Skilled-Worker Visas Under Donald Trump? (Nov. 17, 2016):

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will likely crack down on the use of skilled-worker visas issued to Indian outsourcing firms, said a leading anti-immigration campaigner.

Mr. Trump is still picking his cabinet, and how his policies will evolve is hard to guess, but he was elected pledging to restrict immigration. That means the tens of thousands of mostly Indian migrants entering America on high-skilled worker, or H-1B, visas could become a target for tougher vetting, said Roy Beck, president of Arlington, Va.-based NumbersUSA, which advocates for limited immigration.

“It would be very surprising if we don’t see the rules around H-1Bs really tighten,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

‘Arrival’: Yes, It’s That Good

Arrivalposter

You may have heard that “Arrival,” a thriller about an alien invasion based on a Ted Chiang short story, has been nominated for eight Oscars.

Yes, it’s that good.

Amy Adams, the protagonist, plays a linguist brought in by the U.S. government to try to communicate with mysterious beings, who have landed in pods around the world.

Longtime readers know how much I love sci-fi.

But this isn’t a hard-core, technologically heavy film. It’s beautifully shot, with exceptional sound, and is really more about life, time and — of course — language.

It’s not a perfect film, if you ask me, but it’s very good.

The difference between saying something and actually doing it 

About a quarter of the time I take Ubers here in Delhi the driver asks me, when I get out, to give him a five-star rating. (Drivers must maintain a certain rating to ensure they can continue working on the platform.)

Usually I just nod my head and say “yeah okay,” and proceed to give them whatever score I would have given them anyway. 

The other day a driver did something different. 

As I was getting out of the car he said “sir” to get my attention, then pointed at his phone, where he had selected five stars in his rating for me

Then when he saw I was looking, he pressed submit.

When it came time for me to score him later, I also gave him a similar rating. 

He was a good driver indeed, but he also understood the law of reciprocity. He knew the difference between just saying something and actually taking action. And that I may well feel inclined to help him out too (since riders are also ranked). 

Clever. 

Book Notes: The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen

Note: From time to time I share notes about the books I’ve been reading, or have revisited recently after many years.

These posts are meant to help me remember what I’ve learned from books I’ve found especially useful, and to point out to readers titles I think are worth consulting.

For more, see my Book Notes category

Innovatorsdilemma

The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen

Published: 1997
ISBN: 1633691780
Amazon link

Brief Summary

In this 1997 business classic, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen pioneered the theory of “disruptive innovation,” the phenomenon in which upstart firms displace established ones by taking advantage of emerging technologies.

To really understand what “disruption” means, avoid 95% of the tech commentary you’ll read on the subject, and go right to the source: this book.

My notes:

  • It’s impossible to avoid the word “disruption” these days. Company X is disrupting company Y, a pundit might say. Or someone at a startup you’ve never heard of will proclaim that their company is “disrupting the [fill in the blank] space.” That sort of thing.

    But people often use the term incorrectly, as a trendy way to say “competing with” or “shaking up” a sector. You should read this book to understand what “disruption” really means.

  • Technological “disruption,” as Christensen illustrates through historical examples, is what happens when upstart companies dislodge dominant firms with their often less expensive products that are at first deemed to be insufficient to meet large customers’ needs. But then things shift and the previously inferior offerings displace the mainstream ones.
  • For example, 3.-5-inch disk drives came along that larger manufacturers eschewed because most of their customers needed bigger ones. But then desktop PCs rose to prominence, and they required smaller drives, and it was too late for older manufactures, who hadn’t introduced newer products, to catch up with their faster-moving rivals.

    Another example: Small Honda motorbikes didn’t take off at first in the U.S., but then people realized they were great for dirt biking, and even getting around town, and they eventually disrupted companies making larger motorbikes.

    And so called “mini mills” at first offered lower-quality products than larger steel mills, but then their technology improved rapidly, and they disrupted traditional integrated mills.

  • Crucially, some forget that the “dilemma” in the title refers to the fact that many well-run, highly profitable firms are often disrupted despite that the fact they seem to be doing all the right things.

    That is, they are making money, satisfying their customers, and delivering value to shareholders. The dilemma is that precisely by doing those things, however, they become vulnerable to new, disruptive technologies.

    They are giving customers what they want, so why should managers change course? A major problem: Customers often don’t know what they’re going to want a few years down the line, and when market demand shifts, an upstart firm may have come along and already started offering it.

Amazon Pulls Indian-Flag Doormats as New Delhi Threatens Punishment

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That’s the subject of my story yesterday, which begins:

Amazon.com Inc. pulled doormats emblazoned with the Indian flag from its Canadian website after the South Asian nation’s foreign minister threatened to oust the Seattle company’s employees.

“This is unacceptable,” Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter Wednesday in response to a posting from a user showing an image of the doormats for sale.

Ms. Swaraj, who has 7 million followers on the platform, called on Amazon to remove the “insulting” products and threatened to rescind visas for Amazon’s foreign staff in India if action wasn’t taken.

Google CEO’s Advice to Ambitious Students: Loosen Up

2017 01 06google

That’s the gist of my story yesterday, which began:

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai has some straightforward life advice for students at his alma mater: loosen up and have some fun.

The India-born Mr. Pichai, speaking Thursday at the elite Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur outside Kolkata, told university students who asked how they could emulate his success to pursue their passions, take risks, and be creative.

That is unconventional advice in a country where parents often pressure their children from a young age to study hard so they can secure steady employment.

“Academics is important but it is not as important as it’s made out to be,” Mr. Pichai said, adding that during his time studying metallurgical engineering at the school more than two decades ago he stayed up late, slept through the occasional class — and may even have earned a C in one course.

“I worked hard but we did have our share of fun as well,” he said.

And:

Near the end of his hour-long town hall, an earnest student asked Mr. Pichai for advice on how he could make the most of his four years on campus. Mr. Pichai’s response was simple: “I wouldn’t overthink it.”

Previously: Google’s Newest India Focus: Connecting Small Businesses.

Google’s Newest India Focus: Connecting Small Businesses

2017 01 05india

That’s the subject of my latest WSJ story, which begins:

NEW DELHI— Alphabet Inc.’s Google is ramping up its efforts to get India’s small businesses online, the latest step in its quest to win new users in the populous nation.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said on Wednesday that the Mountain View, Calif., company will launch later this year a tool that allows owners of small businesses that are now offline to create mobile-friendly websites for free. Google says nearly three quarters of the country’s 51 million small businesses currently lack a web presence.

India will be the first country to get access to the feature, which will then be rolled out to other nations.

“India shapes how we develop products in so many ways, big and small,” the India-born Mr. Pichai told a conference of entrepreneurs here. He said the company has added more staff locally and executives have been spending more time in the South Asian nation.

As I’ve noted before, India holds huge potential for Google — and other big U.S. tech firms, like Uber and Amazon — because it is home to more than 1.2 billion people, most of whom have yet to get online for the first time.

How to Send a Paperless Post Greeting Card *Later*

2016 12 29paperlesspost

TLDR: enter the name and email address and click the “add recipient” button. Then the option to send the card later will appear below.

I recently sent an online greeting card via Paperless Post.

For such a popular service, I was surprised to find myself temporarily confounded by part of the process.

After configuring the card, I wanted to set it up to send the next day.

The solution was pretty easy to figure out with some Googling, but I wanted to share it here in case others encounter similar problems.

Here’s what you have to do:

  1. First, after entering the recipient’s name and email address, click the box on the right that says “add recipient.”

    In the image above, that’s the grey box on the top right. (Maybe I was in a rush, but this wasn’t especially apparent to me. I entered the name and address, and then all I saw below was an option to send the card immediately.)

  2. Then an option appears below that says “schedule sending.” That allows you to pick the time and day and set it up for sending.

Again, maybe I was just in a hurry. But my solution would be to change the website’s setup so the “schedule sending” option visible from the very outset.

I wonder how many people abort sending, or search out another service, when it looks like the only option is to send the card straight away, perhaps as a service you have to pay for.

Scoop with a Colleague: Apple Is Discussing Manufacturing in India, Government Officials Say

Apple

The story, which ran Tues., begins:

NEW DELHI— Apple Inc. is discussing with the Indian government the possibility of manufacturing its products in the country, according to two senior government officials, as the company seeks to expand its sales and presence in the South Asian nation.

In a letter to the government last month, the Cupertino, Calif., firm outlined its plans and sought financial incentives to move ahead, the officials told The Wall Street Journal. Senior Trade Ministry authorities in recent weeks met to discuss the matter.

An Apple spokeswoman didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Making goods such as iPhones locally would allow Apple to open its own stores in India, helping build its brand in a country where it has less than a 5% slice of a booming smartphone market.

Our piece was followed by Reuters and picked up by many outlets:

AppleindiaTM

As I wrote on Facebook, subscribe to The WSJ to get such news before anyone else!