High tech companies use legal guest worker programs to displace American workers and eventually move many Americans' jobs overseas. Although this harmful practice that has cost hundreds of thousands of skilled Americans their jobs has been ongoing for more than 15 years, it has received scant attention in Washington D.C. or in the national media. Most Americans outside the high tech industry may be learning about this shocking practice for the first time. But because of testimony given at a recent House Subcommittee hearing on H-1b visas and a whistle-blower scandal from within one of the largest users of the H-1b program, Americans are about to become enlightened.
Rochester Institute of Technology Professor Ron Hira's Congressional testimony caught the attention of the New York Times which quoted Hira's claim that legal loopholes in guestworker programs like the H-1b and L-1 visa programs enabled employers to "to bring in cheaper foreign workers, with ordinary skills, who directly substitute for, rather than complement, workers in America." The Times went on to report that "four of the five biggest users of [the H-1b program] from 2007 and 2009 were Indian outsourcing companies" who - between the four of them alone - brought 22,766 guest workers into the U.S. during the height of the recession.
The Hindu, India's national newspaper, also covered the hearing, and quoted Professor Hira saying, “If the H-1b programme loopholes were closed, many of those jobs would have gone to Americans.”
Previous blogs (here and here) described how the chief attraction of these guest worker programs is access to younger, cheaper workers -- not special skills as the employers insist. The New York Times' reporting on the hearing includes testimony from a small, high tech business owner who told testified that "employers are using these visas to give away our knowledge" (more on that below).
Read more about the hearing in Jonathan Osborne's excellent report.
Infosys - one of the top four Indian outsourcing companies mentioned above - is being sued by whistle blower Jack Palmer, who alleges that Infosys asked him to sign fraudulent B-1 visa invitation letters. The B-1 visa (also known as the "meeting" or "visitor" visa) prohibits the visa holder from being paid by a U.S. employer. Palmer says Infosys asked him to write letters indicating that guest workers were coming to the United States for meetings when, in fact, he knew they were taking jobs.
Infosys (which is also being sued for age discrimination) has remained comfortably under the U.S. media's radar, despite being a big story in India. One notable exception is the technology news site Computerworld, which has followed the story from the beginning.
Dan Rather Reports has also recently picked up on the Infosys scandal, and his in-depth reporting included guidelines Infosys sends to B-1 visa applicants in order to not get caught scamming the system. Infosys advises:
- "Do not mention activities like implementation, design & testing" or consulting, "which sounds like work."
- "Do not use words like work, activity, etc., in the invitation letter. DO NOT TELL THEM YOUR [sic] WORKING. Speak little English."
USCIS (the federal agency that oversees the B-1 program) says that B-1 visa holders are permitted to provide "limited professional services," which may be enough of a loophole for Infosys to claim it is acting within the law. If so, this case appears to back Professor Hira's claim that the main problem with high tech guest worker programs isn't fraud, but the legal loopholes that allow employers to "legally hire foreign workers at significantly lower pay than Americans."
Insourcing labor = Offshoring jobs?
In his Economic Policy Institute report, Professor Hira says high tech guest worker programs "are being used to speed up the off-shoring of high-wage, high tech jobs." High-tech-worker activist Donna Conroy explains in the Dan Rather Reports segment that incoming guest workers are known as "knowledge transfer teams." First, the guest worker comes in and gets trained for the job (sometimes by the American she is replacing). Then, when the knowledge has been "transferred," the company can ship the foreign worker, and her job, back overseas.
The high-tech visa scandal deserves more attention. If you work in the high tech industry, or have experienced or witnessed discrimination, send your story to Dan Rather Reports at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Tue, Apr 5th 2011 @ 11:58am EDT