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Learning about visas

I’m just starting my third week as an intern at Microsoft Research, and I’m still figuring out how to blog this experience.  I’m working in the Human Interactions in Programming group studying remote onboarding of new employees in the Microsoft Canada Development Centre (MCDC).

We originally defined remote onboarding as a process new hires who are geographically separated from their teams go through when joining a new company.  After interviewing managers and HR professionals, it makes more sense to think of remote onboarding as a process the organization goes through to help new employees be productive.  We use remote instead of distributed because only one person is physically separate from the rest (sometimes called a “one-off”).   For me, distributed refers to a group whose members are in a number of different places, either together in groups or apart in one-offs or groups.  Basically remote is a subcategory of distributed and a special enough category to get its own name. Microsoft uses a similar term, remote management, to refer to the kind of management leads and other managers must use to work with employees who are far from them, whether at MCDC or in India, Ireland, China, etc.

I’m conducting a comparative case study in order to understand how remote onboarding works and how various interventions impact onboarding experiences.  Of course some part of my energy is directed at identifying areas for growth so that Microsoft can improve their onboarding, but it’s too early in the study for me to talk about improvements.  That said, I think I’m ready to say the U.S. has some serious room for improvement in its visa and immigration rules.

Many people are working from MCDC while they await an H1-B visa.  Others are planning to stay in Canada for some time.  A third group are waiting for L visas.  As I understand it, both H1-B and L visas are work visas; people who hold them are able to work in the U.S.  H1-B’s are the visas awarded through lotteries that we hear and read about while Congress and the Presidential candidates debate immigration reform.  Microsoft has been pretty open about its feelings about immigration laws.  They want to hire more foreign workers because they are qualified, but the U.S. won’t let them in the country.  Enter MCDC.  Canada apparently likes the idea of highly-skilled workers with good salaries living within its borders.  L visas are internal transfer visas and are not part of a lottery system.  Basically, if you work for Microsoft in another country for 365 days, you can then get an internal transfer and L visa to come live in the U.S. and work for Microsoft for 5 years.  The H and L visas differ in their rules for getting them, the rights you and your family members have in the U.S., the length of stay, renewal, etc.  I’ll be learning all about visas in the next couple of months.  I’m pretty sure I’ll think we need some reform though.  65,000 H1-B’s clearly aren’t the right answer to the global competitiveness challenge.

So, what do you think ?

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