Over the last couple of decades, the US technology industry has become one of the dominant global forces shaping the ways we connect with each other; it’s easy to think about how much different and perhaps atomized the world would be if Facebook, for example, didn’t exist. Less discussed, however, is the effect the rest of the world has on Silicon Valley.
Today, the Medium technology publication OneZero published the results of a survey it conducted about America’s H-1B visa program — which, according to Pew, is “the primary way that companies in the United States hire high-skilled foreign workers.” That’s capped at 85,000 workers, which is less than 1 percent of the country’s workforce. President Trump’s Stephen Miller-designed “Buy American, Hire American” policy, however, has slowed the use of the program, as has Trump’s anti-immigrant views and policies. The picture that emerges is grim.
OneZero reporter Sarah Emerson writes that “foreign laborers who enter the program also report feeling like an underclass, with stressful working conditions and discrimination due to their visa status” because, in the case of the H-1B, a person’s visa is totally dependent on their employer sponsoring it. That means “for thousands of workers on H-1B visas, conditions are challenging, and can feel as if they’re designed to keep them silent,” Emerson says.
According to OneZero — which conducted the survey in partnership with the anonymous workplace feedback app Blind — many workers on H-1B visas feel like their place in this country is highly conditional. And because they’re not necessarily empowered to speak up about their experiences, it means they experience forms of workplace discrimination and pressure to perform that other, less conditional employees don’t.
On the topic of workplace discrimination:
When OneZero asked Blind users if they have “ever perceived discrimination at work” because of their H-1B visa status, most participants said they had not. Of the 35 companies represented by the survey, only one, Capital One, had more than 50% of its respondents reply “Very often” or “Often” to the question. At Apple, Salesforce, Lyft, Airbnb, Samsung, Intuit, Bloomberg, Symantec, and Goldman Sachs, between 20% and 40% of respondents replied “Sometimes.”
OneZero and Blind ran another survey in early 2020 to see what tech workers who are not on H-1B visas feel about the program. They found that almost 60 percent of respondents opposed policies that would limit the program.
The story is worth reading in full because, as with everything else, politics is about exercising power over groups of people. Tech workers aren’t exempt.