The Truth About US Visas (In My Experience)

 

H1 Visa Passport Stamp

H-1 Visa Passport Stamp

Today’s “flashback” relates to my early experiences in the USA. The image above shows my H-1 visa stamp, in my UK passport, which was obtained for me by Sony so I could start working for them in 1989.

I moved to the USA to work about 30 years ago, initially on an E-2 (Treaty Trader) visa (for a different employer). The H-1 visa shown above was my second and final US visa (because I became a legal permanent resident in 1991).

Ever since I first began working in the US, I’ve heard controversial claims about the working visa scheme. The H-1 visa type was replaced by the H-1B visa in 1999, but many of the controversies surrounding its use have remained.

  • On the negative side, there are complaints that employers use visas to hire foreigners and undercut American workers, or that some employers prefer workers who require visas because such people can be treated as “indentured servants”.
  • Conversely, defenders of the system claim that employers have no choice but to hire visa workers, because the USA simply doesn’t produce anyone with the required skills. Is that really true, and, if so, why?

Some Criticisms are Justified

As someone who has benefited from the availability of US work visas, you may be surprised when I say that I agree with some of the criticisms. I’ve seen personally that some employers do seem to abuse the visa scheme, do use it to undercut American workers, and do treat visa employees as “captive workers”.

On the other hand, not all employers abuse the system. In my case, I have a clear conscience, because I really was hired due to having skills that my employer could not find in any available American workers, as I explain below.

Sony did not treat me as a “captive”; in fact they treated me quite generously, and even agreed to help me obtain Permanent US Residency (which became moot about a year later, when I married Mary, who is a US citizen).

After I began working for Sony, my manager explained to me that they had gone to considerable lengths to hire me because I really did have experience that no other available candidate possessed. Ironically, that experience came from an earlier job that I had, until then, regarded as a “wasted year”!

When Life hands you Lemons…

In 1986, while still living in the UK, I obtained work with Link Electronics Ltd. Link was a manufacturer of television cameras for the BBC and many other worldwide broadcasting organizations. At the time, this seemed like a positive move, given my background in video production and training at the BBC, so I moved away from London to Andover, where Link was located.

Unfortunately, Link succumbed to a pattern that seemed all too common in British engineering companies. There was no doubt that Link’s products were technically brilliant, but it was not a well-managed company, and, unknown to me, was in fact already in severe trouble by the time that I started there. As a result, despite making recognized contributions to their hardware and software, I was laid off from Link after only one year, leaving me feeling that my move there had been a very bad decision.

It was, therefore, very gratifying when, about 4 years later and 5500 miles away, I discovered that my one year’s experience at Link had opened the door to a great job at Sony. By the end of the 1980s, there were no remaining television camera manufacturers in the US, so Sony really couldn’t find any available Americans with that experience.

(The reason why Sony were so eager to hire someone with experience of television camera design was because they wanted to develop a film scanner that could convert high-resolution film into HDTV video. The video could then be used instead of the film for editing and compositing cinematic movies, which made the process far more efficient.)

Visa from Tokyo

It may seem odd that my H-1 visa states that it was issued at “Tokyo”, rather than London or San Francisco. That is correct, and occurred because of the oddities of the visa issuing process. In order to get the visa stamped in my passport, I had to visit a US embassy outside the United States. My first opportunity to do that, after being hired by Sony, was when I visited their plant in Atsugi for a project meeting. We stayed at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo, and, one morning, I went along to US Embassy in Tokyo to get the visa stamped into my passport.

Finally, in 1991, Mary and I got married, as a result of which I no longer needed a visa to work in the US. Of course, there are also many stories of immigrants who marry US citizens simply to obtain residency, but the Immigration Service is well aware of that and conducts extensive checks to prevent that kind of fraud. Now that Mary and I have been married for over 26 years, I think we have adequate proof that there was nothing dishonest about the motivation for our marriage!

The only photos remaining from my 1990 Tokyo visit seem to be a couple of portraits that Mary took of me in the hotel. One of these is shown below.

KeioPlazaDavid2Cright

David Hodgson at the Keio Plaza, Tokyo, 1990

Which David Hodgson is Which?

 

Mystery Escapologist

When it came time for me to select a URL for my personal blog, I had to select the name I would use from whatever was available. There are, of course, many people in the world named “David Hodgson”, so it would be naïve to assume that I’d be the only David Hodgson with an internet presence.

I searched through web sites mentioning “David Hodgson”, and I was enlightened, amused and even appalled by what I found. I found several artists, a vicar, and even a murderer. Some of these sites are blogs, but some are not. I’m listing these URLs here in the hope that it will help you to avoid confusing me with all these other David Hodgsons!

All the URLs listed here are real web sites, and I am not in any way responsible for their content. So, if you want to complain, then please don’t “shoot the messenger”!

The following David Hodgsons are definitely not me

The fact that it’s now quite easy to set up a blog, and that it can be done free of charge, means that inevitably you will encounter some bad blogs. A similar situation occurred back in the 1980s when “desktop publishing” was the new fad; at that time I saw flyers that used twenty or more different typefaces on the same page! Nonetheless, the bad examples eventually fell by the wayside, and desktop publishing is now well-established. In the end, desktop publishing didn’t fail just because some of its early adoptees didn’t know what they were doing. I suspect that the same will be true for blogging, and indeed for ePublishing in general.

One of the features of blogs that you notice when you start examining them is that some people seem to start a blog with unbounded enthusiasm, then realize only later that they don’t really have much to say. My advice is to be realistic; if you’re not already someone who posts regularly on social media and elsewhere, then you almost certainly don’t need a blog, because you’ll never actually post to it.

Then there are those sites that seem to be “their own worst enemy”. I received a communication from one blogger whose site is titled “Five Experts”, and which seems to offer advice to fellow bloggers as to how to attract more followers. Unfortunately, though, I was not inspired by the content. For example, here’s a description of the site:

“We are five profitionels, we creat a small business. a parte of owr work is to help you creat your’s”

Erm… no thanks. Anyway, I already creat mine’s…

David Hodgson: the Previous Incarnation

https://artuk.org/discover/artists/hodgson-david-17981864

You really do learn something new every day! I had never previously realized that there was a British artist named David Hodgson, who lived in East Anglia from 1798-1864. He seems to be best known for his paintings of the Norwich area.

David Hodgson: the Vicar of Wokingham

www.davidhodgson.com (aliases to: https://dphodgson.wordpress.com/)

This is the blog of a vicar in Wokingham, UK. Coincidentally, Wokingham is where I worked for about a year before emigrating to California, but I assure you that there’s no other connection between us.

Most of the posts seem to be just links to other church business postings. However, towards the end of last year, the Reverend apparently received inspiration to start posting for Advent. He explained, “My blog for each day in Advent will celebrate examples of action in the world inspired by hope and the desire to bring closer God’s kingdom of love, peace and justice.”

Unfortunately, he stopped posting after 7 days (on 3rd December), without offering any reason. It seems that the Holy Spirit gave up the ghost at that point.

David Hodgson: the Invisible Insolvency Expert

http://www.davidhodgson.net/

This site does not seem to be stable, and is currently not accessible. When it was accessible, it claimed to be the web site of “David G Hodgson, Insolvency and credit management consultant, Leeds, UK”.

Perhaps insolvency expert David G Hodgson didn’t pay his web hosting bill?

David Hodgson: the Word-Salad Maestro

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidhodgson/

I must admit that this David Hodgson is the one that perhaps could be most easily confused with me, given that we apparently both graduated from the same university, and both worked for Sony at some time.

I was trying to find a word or phrase to summarize what David does. Based on his own descriptions, I can’t, although I must admit that I’m impressed with his “word salad”. If he wants to add more of the same, then perhaps the Deepak Chopra Quote Generator would be helpful?

David is the CEO of Hummingbird Labs, but the web site of that business consists of nothing but a nice picture of a tree in a field: http://www.hummingbirdlabs.co/. The page used to include a logo of a hummingbird with its beak missing, but that’s gone now.

David Hodgson: the Model

http://www.modelmayhem.com/DavidHodgson

I’ve drawn many models over the years, but I was never a model myself.

David Hodgson: the US Graphic Designer

https://www.behance.net/davidhodgson

No problems here; it’s simply a competently-presented gallery of his graphics work.

David Hodgson: the Blogger Who’s Cutting through the Crap

http://dhodgson.com/

In October 2013, this David Hodgson felt called upon to start a blog to tell the world his opinions of “Magnetic Water Softeners”.

He ended his first post by describing an experiment he was conducting, stating, “I will post with the results in about 30 days and let you know what I have found out.”

But he never did post those results, and apparently that first post was all he had to say. About anything. Ever.

The subtitle of his blog is “Cutting Through the Crap”. Apparently, that David Hodgson cut through so much crap that he left himself with nothing more to say.

David Hodgson: the Other Artist from Leeds

http://artofdavidhodgson.blogspot.com/

David Hodgson: the Video Game Commentator

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/34539/david-hodgson

David Hodgson: the Murderer

I repeat that this is definitely not me!

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/police-ask-murderer-david-hodgson-433240

David Hodgson: the New One-Shot Blogger

http://www.davidkhodgson.com/new-blog/

Apparently this blog is so new that most of its pages have been removed… This David Hodgson also states that he’s a graphic artist, but the web site displays only one example of his work (or at least I assume that it’s his, because it’s not signed).

Hopefully the information above, covering many of the David Hodgsons who are not me, will help you identify the real me in future.

Revelation in Aylesbury

The Bell Hotel, Aylesbury, with the Buckinghamshire County Offices beyond, in 1980

The Bell Hotel, Aylesbury, with the Buckinghamshire County Offices beyond, in 1980

There have been some occasions in my life when I’ve attempted something that, at the time, seemed to be a failure, but eventually it became apparent that I had gained some unanticipated new insight or skill. One such instance happened at a job interview in 1980, in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

I described in a previous post how, having commenced my first full-time “permanent” job at Swifts of Scarborough, I soon came to feel that I was capable of something better (and also hopefully better-paying), and began to look around for more suitable employment.

One field that was recognized as being the “white heat of technology”* in those days was “Computing”, and I wondered whether my math skills would make me a good fit for that daunting new field. Incredible though it may seem now, I’d never actually used a computer (except for a digital calculator) until I went to university. Even though I was working as an Accounts Clerk at an engineering company, there wasn’t a single computer of any kind in the business. Swifts’ accounts department used nothing more sophisticated than electric adding machines.

(* Ironically, Harold Wilson made his “white heat” speech in, of all places, my home town—Scarborough!)

My first brush with computer programming was very disheartening. During the first year engineering course, we were required to write a single computer program. However, we received no instruction in how to do this; apparently we were expected to know already, or to teach ourselves! I found this very difficult and frustrating, and I didn’t seem to achieve good results. I concluded that I probably wasn’t “cut out” for computing, and shouldn’t attempt to pursue it further.

Later, after I’d left Warwick, I discovered that quite a few of my fellow students there had actually obtained A-levels in Computing before starting at university; a subject that wasn’t even on offer in Scarborough! Thus it wasn’t at all surprising that I hadn’t been able to compete well against such students.

Insurance Building on Gatehouse Road, Aylesbury, in 1980

Insurance Building on Gatehouse Road, Aylesbury, in 1980

One of the potential jobs for which I somehow noticed an advertisement was for a “Computer Data Entry Clerk” at an insurance company in Aylesbury. I was warned that my interview would include a “Computer Programming Aptitude” test.

When it came time to take the test, the interviewer explained that there was no time limit. Accuracy was more important than speed. I could take as long as I needed to finish, but typically completion took about 4 hours.

I found that I’d finished and checked my work after about 3 hours, so I went over and handed my paper to the interviewer. He asked me if I was sure that I’d finished everything and done as much as I could, and repeated that there was no time limit for the test. I confirmed that I had completed everything. He gave me a skeptical look and accepted the paper, then I walked out.

I heard nothing further until weeks later, when I received a letter from the company, informing me that they were not offering me the Data Entry Clerk job. The letter went on to explain that I had done so well on the test that I “clearly” had great computer programming aptitude, and that my skills would be wasted in so lowly a position! As had happened at other interviews, I received the advice that I should instead return to university and try to obtain a technical degree.

So I didn’t get the job, but I did get some extremely valuable feedback that bolstered my self-confidence and caused me to renew my interest in a field that I had been ready to abandon.

I eventually followed the advice that I’d been given at those interviews, although I chose Electronic Engineering rather than Computer Science. In retrospect, CS may have been a better fit for my unusual skill mix, but, at the time, I hadn’t forgotten the difficulty of trying to compete with other students who had A-levels in Computing, when I had no formal qualifications in that field at all.

Old and New. Aylesbury Canal Wharf, with the County Offices building beyond

Old and New, in 1980. Aylesbury Canal Wharf, with the County Offices building beyond

Microsoft Office & XML File Formats

Components of a typical Office Software suite

Components of a typical Office Software suite

Over on my professional blog, Teklibri, I just posted an article about Microsoft Office and the XML file formats (such as .docx) associated with it:

Benefits of the Microsoft Office Open XML File Formats

The article discusses some technical details regarding the advantages of the XML formats, and how to handle them. For non-technical users, the takeaways are:

  1. For the average computer user, buying or renting Microsoft Office is a waste of money. Free alternatives, such as Libre Office and OpenOffice, provide all the functionality that you’re likely to need.
  2. Given the choice, you should always store files in the new XML formats (those with a final “x” in the extension), such as docx, in preference to the earlier binary formats.

The Salesman and the Programmer: Poem

incompatiblepcsnewMore than twenty years ago now, I had to upgrade one of my PCs from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. What I’d been promised would be a painless improvement turned out to be a very frustrating experience. However, rather than simmering about it, I was inspired to write the humorous poem below.

I must make it clear that this is intended as a satirical parody. I am not suggesting that the introduction of Windows 95 (or any other operating system) was really a deliberate plot to break anyone’s computer, and I have no evidence to support such a notion!

For product sales, the problem was
Computers were too cheap:
The software was reliable;
The learning curve not steep;
And Windows Three was so well known
Folk used it in their sleep!

The Salesman and the Programmer
Were walking hand in hand.
They were trying to make a new program
To sell throughout the land.
“If we could find a killer app,”
The Salesman said, “That would be grand.”

“We used to make a lot of cash,”
The Salesman said with glee,
“When software was such complex stuff
And our knowledge was the key.
But now it’s all such bug-free fluff,
And Tech Support is free!”

“If we could make them change their files,”
The Programmer began,
“They’d have to learn a new OS —
Oh, what a marv’lous plan!
If we could make it look the same
But so a diff’rent program ran.”

The Programmer, he saw a catch
They’d have to overcome.
“But how could we convince them all?
Who’d ever be so dumb?”
The Salesman smiled, and quietly said,
“Oh — almost everyone.”

And so they built a new OS:
Another type of GUI.
They called it “Windows 95”
And began to spout the hooey.
But who would risk this untried scheme?
Who would be so screwy?

So they showed it off as something great,
To make society better.
They claimed it was a vital tool
For every young go-getter.
They asked us “Where we’d go today”
In papers and newsletters.

For those that were more cautious,
Those that weren’t such mugs,
They told us that it worked just fine,
Between the product plugs.
One million beta testers had been set
To find those minor bugs.

They spent a mound of money
On publicity and display,
And people rushed out lemming-like
To buy it that first day.
What we really should have listened to
Was what they failed to say.

They told us that they’d tested it,
On every kind of system.
They’d questioned all the User Groups
(They’d made a vow to listen.)
Those beta testers found the bugs,
But they didn’t say they’d fixed ‘em!

I didn’t want to buy the thing —
I wasn’t taken in.
My own machine had worked just fine —
It was my main linchpin.
With Windows Three-Point-One, NT,
And lots of RAM therein.

But my client wanted me to try
To change their new software.
“It must be Windows 95!”
They called me to declare.
So I went and bought the CD-ROM,
Which was the start of my nightmare!

And so I ran the setup files,
To install Ninety-five.
My system paused, and beeped, and stopped:
It wouldn’t come alive!
I couldn’t get the thing to run,
No matter how I’d strive.

So I called —

The Salesman and the Programmer:
I asked them what was wrong.
They told me that they’d find a fix —
It wouldn’t take too long.
And until then, I’d work around:
That’s how I got along.

And so, at length, they called me back,
Which brightened my demean’.
The Programmer had checked their code:
He claimed it was pristine —
“There’s nothing wrong with our software:
It must be your machine.”

I told them it had worked for years,
And never had “gone down”,
With every other program known
And all the gear around.
“Well there’s something there that we can’t fix,”
He said, “You break it down.”

The Salesman and the Programmer,
Were happy with their game.
Saw new computers selling fast,
And that had been their aim.
“We’ve stopped your system working now,
And you can take the blame!”

My poem is, of course, a parody of Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, but in fact Carroll’s poem was itself an adaptation of an earlier work; “The Dream of Eugene Aram” by Thomas Hood.