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Software Engineers Face Second-Class Status PDF Print E-mail

The Daily Campus, University of Connecticut
November 16, 2000

In the past few decades, the H1B visa has brought an influx of South Asian professionals into the United States. These are the individuals behind the power of our computer software companies. These are the individuals who have taken precedence over American doctors in our hospitals. If South Asians are doing so well, then why is Vijay Prasad complaining?

High Tech Coolies

In 1869, photographers captured the historic "Golden Spike" ceremony marking the completion of the American transcontinental railroad.  Despite the major contributions of Asian American workers to this effort, they were left out of every official photograph of the event.

Over a century later, with governmental and media institutions celebrating the emergence of the Internet, the disproportionate contributions of Asian Americans to information technology are similarly being cut out of the picture.

Not very long ago, mainstream America was content with dismissing Asian Americans as the archetypal computer nerds.  In the mid-1990s, when computer literacy became socially desirable, this association was conveniently forgotten.  Since then, leading Asian American computer scientists and engineers have been conspicuously absent from policymaking, management, and public relations roles in Internet governance, while instant experts with "corporate credibility" (i.e., white skin) but minimal technical background have been invited to the table.

The "High-Tech Coolies" section, the first to be added to since our launch two years ago, will document the vast disparities between Asian American contributions to our nation's high tech development and our continuing invisibility in related arenas of political and cultural power.

-- Andrew Chin

Prasad, an associate professor and director of International Studies at Trinity College, said that a race-first approach is dangerous. He said that although a race may come to America and succeed, there are other dynamics to consider when it comes to immigration.

In his speech "DOT.COM or DOT.COMRADE: Indian Americans, H1B Visas and Please Buckle Your Seatbelt (This is MY Ride)," which he gave Tuesday afternoon at the University of Connecticut Asian American Cultural Center, Prasad focused on South Asian immigrants in American society.

Through his animated and humorous lecture, he pointed out the triad that surrounds the issue of immigration.

"Immigration is a silent killer of hopes of people around the world," Prasad said. "All the folks that come here come with the illusion that they can stay."

Most South Asians come to the United States on the H1B visa, which Prasad called "high-tech coolie-ism" or "high-tech indenture." "Coolie" was the slang term used for Asians who were brought into the U.S. during the 19th-century gold rush to work, then sent home when they were no longer needed. The H1B visa brings people into the U.S. from other countries, gives them temporary jobs for a period of approximately four years and then sends them back to their home countries.

The problem with the H1B visa is that when most immigrants get here, he said, they don't want to leave, and added people are taken in the peak of their lives and then returned to a place that does not compare to the U.S. in its capabilities, Prasad said.

According to Prasad, of the thousands of immigrants who come to the U.S. on the H1B visa, only a small percentage can actually apply for green cards because of quotas. This leaves thousands of illegal immigrants in the country with no place to go. Because of this, many immigrants with degrees end up as cab drivers or stand at kiosks in order to make a living.

"You're wanted for your labor, but not for your life," he said.

In 1965, in light of the new immigration laws, many South Asian immigrants came to the U.S. Before then, Asians were seen as dangerous and called "the yellow peril." However, in the 1950s, when Russia launched the Sputnik satellite and two Chinese people won the Nobel Prize, the U.S. felt that it was falling behind in the world. Therefore, it brought in scientists from Asia to work on the rocket programs.

The U.S. also brought in South Asians to enhance its technology and medicine programs. Prasad said that 83 percent of the South Asians coming to the United States have advanced degrees, mainly in medicine or computer engineering.

In digital production companies, one-third of the employees are Indian and one-half of them are Asian. In the 1980s, software firms wanted to increase the number of participants in the H1B visa program. Bill Gates, owner of Microsoft, even uses the H1B visa as an avenue to get laborers, Prasad said.

Justin Laberge, a third-semester individualized criminology major at the University of Connecticut, said that in his sociology class he learned about immigration and the gold rush. He learned how Asians were brought into the U.S. to work and then sent back home.

"It's the same thing now, only with the H1B visa and technology," he said.

Prasad said that he believes that the U.S. opens its borders to so many South Asian immigrants because it wants to make money.

"The security of the borders are not important until the corporations are secure," he said. "The bottom line assassinates our destiny in order to make a quarterly profit."

With this in mind, Prasad said that the U.S. clearly takes no responsibility for the immigrants that come to work temporarily.

Prasad revealed that some immigrants live five per room in motels on the Berlin Turnpike, each with a computer to do his or her work on. He also said that some sleep on subways and buses. The quality of life is ruined, he said, due to the goal of making a profit.

Along with racism, imperialism and capitalism, politics was also on Prasad's mind. He noted that during the recent presidential campaigns, immigration was not an issue on the agendas of the candidates. However, Prasad said he believes that it is an issue that the government will soon consider.

"Immigration is the next fight on the agenda," he said.

"I had never thought about the links between capitalism, imperialism and racism in respect to immigration before," said Sarah Pollen, a fifth-semester human development and family relations major, after his speech.

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