Monday, March 10, 2008

Life of International Students and H1B Visa Holders during US Economic Recession

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My friend who was in F1 visa and doing MS in Computer Science had three jobs in hand by the middle of the Fall semester in 2000 even though he was planning to graduate by the end of Spring, May 2001. He was so confused which job to take as all three were from the cream of the Fortune 500 companies. Soon after my friend got these jobs the dot com bubble busted and American economy fell into recession. By the time he graduated in May 2001 all those three companies had already withdrawn their job offers. He got another job after six months after tons of struggle.
This was not an isolated incident at that time. I could recollect so many such scenarios that happened to my friends due to American recession. I was one of the unfortunate people who landed in US for studies at the peak of recession but was fortunate to graduate after recession was over. But most of my friends were not that lucky and had to graduate at the middle of recession. I had seen their struggles during recession and those are the images that come to my mind when someone talks about another US recession this year.

During the peak of dot com boom the students were very eager to finish their studies since job market was very hot. Like my friend most of them had a handful of jobs to choose from months before graduation. But recession had changed everything. Forget about multiple jobs, getting an interview call seemed to be a dream during that period. Students who were very keen to graduate started postponing their gradation indefinitely so that at least they could do some hourly job or continue with their research/teaching assistantship in campus and earn something to make both ends meet. This prevented new students coming after Fall 2001 from getting assistantship or hourly jobs and many had to survive with no job, paying full fees and with no hope of any kind of assistantship in the near future.
Companies were in a lay off spree and almost all of the start up companies closed down. Suddenly there was an influx of H1B visa holders with no job. The day you loose your job in H1B you are out of status and you should change your visa status or find another job or leave the country. With the economy in downslide it was tough for even an experienced H1B guy to find a new job. Lot of them came back to school in F1 visa to do second Masters or to do PhD just to maintain status till the recession was over. These increased the competition for hourly jobs and various assistantships and it was a sad scene to see people studying just to maintain status.
No one wanted to graduate and this made our university make a new rule. Who ever has completed all the course work should graduate in the following semester after clearing their comprehensive exam. Just to stay in status and continue doing the hourly job they had, I had friends who purposely failed the comprehensive exam (You had two attempts to pass the comprehensive exam). Once you fail in the comprehensive exam you can maintain the student status for that semester and the next semester – a perfect example of how desperate students were to stay in school.


This happened in June 2003. One of my friends who did Master’s in Electrical Engineering got an interview call from a company for a full time position. That was the time when getting even an interview call was some sort of miracle. That news about interview spread like a wild fire and everyone was talking about it. So many of my friends wanted to see my friends resume to see what was different in his resume that got him this interview call. There was absolutely no job out there during that period.

Getting scared reading this? Or are you thinking that I am exaggerating? I told these incidents to few students who are doing Masters in our school now and they just laughed at it. They couldn’t believe things could go this bad. Many of the readers of my blog are those friends who were with me during peak period of recession and everyone will agree that those were some of the toughest times in their life.

Having written all this, there was definitely light at the end of tunnel. Come Spring 2004 and recession was thing of the past and everyone was getting interview calls, job interview, and assistantships. Those who were strong hearted survived. People no longer joined for a second Masters or a PhD just for the sake of it. A wheel has turned a full circle for most of us.
Bottom line – Things will be tough during a recession. Be prepared to face it however hard that may be. It won’t last for ever and good days will be soon back.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Union Budget 2008 – One step forward and at least 10 steps backwards.

Initially when I read this I thought I understood it wrong. Then I thought it was a typo. Then I went to different websites to confirm it. The Indian Union Finance Minister in this years Budget has announced Rs.60,000 crores (approximately $15 billion USD) waiver of all loans taken by farmers. If you are a farmer that has less than 2 hectares of land and have taken a loan, government has announced that it will waive your loan. The Government of India will compensate the bank.

The media, political parties and experts all welcomed this announcement. Every one claimed that waiving the loans would be a huge relief for farmers who are having a tough time with rising production cost and dwindling profit or growing loss. But will this step save the farmers of India? Will it revive agriculture in India? This step is only going to put farmers and agriculture sector as a whole in deep trouble in coming years. We need a long term solution than a short term patch up to revive agriculture.

The way I view this – think about this analogy. Assume in a country students are failing in their exams and the national pass percentage each year is less than 20%. The national government gets alarmed and in the election year they decided to “improve education sector” by declaring that every student gets promoted to the next grade. Media and politicians and political parties hail this as a historic move by the government to improve the education sector.

Will this move by the government improve education sector? Are we not actually lowering the standard of education by that move? Are we not telling the students that “studying hard” is no longer necessary to pass the exam? Does this move discourage students who really work hard to pass the exam? Following years also, wont the students expect the government to step in to make them promote rather than use their brains to pass exams? In the long term is this step good for the country?

If the government really wanted to improve education what should the government do instead of promoting every student to next grade? They should have found out the reasons why they are failing and put more resources in those areas and improve education sector. They should appoint more qualified teachers, increase the salary of good teachers, decrease the student teacher ratio, give incentives to students who really do well in school etc. These steps will improve the education sector and the country in the long run.

Doesn’t the same apply to agriculture sector also? Isn’t waiving of loans like promoting all students to the next grade without investigating reason for their failure? With this announcement isn’t the government making a fool of the people (farmers) who paid off their debt in time? Now won’t it send a wrong signal to all the people who take loan in the future that in an election year the government is going to waive their loan?

If the government was really interested in reviving agriculture sector it should never have announced this step. It is a known fact that agricultural sector in India is suffering because agriculture no longer is a profitable business. As long as it is not a profitable business, people who are already into it try to get out of it and also it won’t attract more people into it. Who wants to invest or waste time on something that won’t give them back their investment? Instead of waiving Rs.60,000 crores of loan, if the government has used this money to increase the procurement price of agricultural products by say 3 times the present price the farmers who cultivate it would have made some profit and they will also be motivated to continue agriculture.

Some genuine farmers like blogger Keralafarmer have expressed their opposition to this move of the government. I felt it was strange that such a bizarre policy was announced by the government headed by Dr Manmohan Singh. I am pretty sure that Dr Manmohan Singh knows the consequences of these steps. But in an election year, short term populist measures take precedence over long term development goal and I see this announcement by the Union Finance Minister as a cheap populist measure to bring more votes to the Congress Party in the next general elections.


UNION BUDGET 2008 – ONE STEP FORWARD AND ATLEAST 10 STEPS BACKWARD.

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