Yesterday afternoon, the New York Times published a blockbuster story, "Last Task After Disney Layoffs: Train Foreign Replacements," by Julia Preston.
As readers of Computerworld know, this not a new story. Local Orlando stations broke the news in January. In fact, the stories of Americans being forced to train their foreign replacements have been around for years, just not in the mainstream media.
The Times' story is a big deal. NumbersUSA members negatively impacted by the H-1B visa program have long expressed frustration that their plight was ignored by the mainstream media. Many of them have personally contacted reporters, left comments online, and written letters to editors in an effort to be heard. Their efforts are paying off. With the Times' story, their concerns have gone mainstream.
As Preston's story illustrates, the H-1B visa program is used to displace older, experienced U.S. workers with younger, less-expensive H-1B holders. Excerpt:
"Disney 'made the difficult decision to eliminate certain positions, including yours,' as a result of 'the transition of your work to a managed service provider,' said a contract presented to employees on the day the layoffs were announced. It offered a 'stay bonus' of 10 percent of severance pay if they remained for 90 days. But the bonus was contingent on 'the continued satisfactory performance of your job duties.' For many, that involved training a replacement. Young immigrants from India took the seats at their computer stations.
"'The first 30 days was all capturing what I did,' said the American in his 40s, who worked 10 years at Disney. 'The next 30 days, they worked side by side with me, and the last 30 days, they took over my job completely.' To receive his severance bonus, he said, 'I had to make sure they were doing my job correctly.'
"In late November, this former employee received his annual performance review, which he provided to The New York Times. His supervisor, who was not aware the man was scheduled for layoff, wrote that because of his superior skills and 'outstanding' work, he had saved the company thousands of dollars. The supervisor added that he was looking forward to another highly productive year of having the employee on the team.
"The employee got a raise. His severance pay had to be recalculated to include it.
"The former Disney employee who is 57 worked in project management and software development. His résumé lists a top-level skill certification and command of seven operating systems, 15 program languages and more than two dozen other applications and media."
The displacement of American workers is about profit margins, not skills:
"Former employees said many immigrants who arrived were younger technicians with limited data skills who did not speak English fluently and had to be instructed in the basics of the work."
Importantly, Preston and he Times (who have previously reported that some employers engage in visa fraud to displace American workers) report that mainstream U.S. companies are exploiting legal loopholes to legally replace U.S. workers:
"According to federal guidelines, the visas are intended for foreigners with advanced science or computer skills to fill discrete positions when American workers with those skills cannot be found. Their use, the guidelines say, should not 'adversely affect the wages and working conditions' of Americans. Because of legal loopholes, however, in practice, companies do not have to recruit American workers first or guarantee that Americans will not be displaced....
"....HCL America, a branch of a global company based in Noida, India, won a contract with Disney in 2012. In a statement, the company said details of the agreement were confidential. 'As a company, we work very closely with the U.S. Department of Labor and strictly adhere to all visa guidelines and requirements to be complied with,' it said."
When companies outsource their IT workforce to companies like HCL, they can then claim that they aren't H-1B-dependent. Preston closes her story with this:
"The chairman of the Walt Disney Company, Robert A. Iger, is a co-chairman with Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, and Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of News Corporation, in the Partnership for a New American Economy, which pushes for an overhaul of immigration laws, including an increase in H-1B visas.
"But Disney directly employs fewer than 10 H-1B workers, executives said, and has not been prominent in visa lobbying. Mr. Iger supports the partnership’s broader goals, including increased border security and a pathway to legal status for immigrants here illegally, officials of the organization said."
Directly or indirectly, the same corporate interests that push for expanded loophole-riddled visa programs like the H-1B are backing mass legalization and permanent immigration increases that would impact all occupations. Corporations act out of legitimate self-interest when they lobby for policies that would boost profits. It's in the national interest for the media to report how corporations would benefit financially from the immigration reforms they lobby for.
Kudos to the New York Times for pulling back the curtain and giving displaced middle-class IT workers a voice in an immigration news story. Let's hope they do the same for displaced Americans in industries like construction, service, and manufacturing.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, Jun 18th 2015 @ 11:45am EDT