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Backlash stirs in US against foreign worker visas

By Paul Wiseman

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 6 2014 9:54 a.m. MDT

The top users of H-1B visas aren't even tech companies like Google and Facebook. Eight of the 10 biggest H1-B users last year were outsourcing firms that hire out thousands of mostly lower- and mid-level tech workers to corporate clients, according to an analysis of federal data by Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology. The top 10 firms accounted for about a third of the H-1Bs allotted last year.

The debate over whether foreign workers are taking jobs isn't new, but for years it centered on low-wage sectors like agriculture and construction. The high-skilled visas have thrust a new sector of American workers into the fray: the middle class.

Last month, three tech advocacy groups launched a labor boycott against Infosys, IBM and the global staffing and consulting company ManpowerGroup, citing a "pattern of excluding U.S. workers from job openings on U.S soil."

They say Manpower, for example, last year posted U.S. job openings in India but not in the United States.

"We have a shortage in the industry all right — a shortage of fair and ethical recruiting and hiring," said Donna Conroy, director of Bright Future Jobs, a group of tech professionals fighting to end what it calls "discriminatory hiring that is blocking us ... from competing for jobs we are qualified to do."

"U.S. workers should have the freedom to compete first for job openings," Conroy said.

Infosys spokesman Paul de Lara responded that the firm encourages "diversity recruitment," while spokesman Doug Shelton said IBM considers all qualified candidates "without regard to citizenship and immigration status." Manpower issued a statement saying it "adopts the highest ethical standards and complies with all applicable laws and regulations when hiring individuals."

Much of the backlash against the H-1B and other visa programs can be traced to whistleblower Jay Palmer, a former Infosys employee. In 2011, Palmer supplied federal investigators with information that helped lead to Infosys paying a record $34 million settlement last year. Prosecutors had accused the company of circumventing the law by bringing in lower-paid workers on short-term executive business visas instead of using H-1B visas.

Last year, IBM paid $44,000 to the U.S. Justice Department to settle allegations its job postings expressed a preference for foreign workers. And a September trial is set against executives at the staffing company Dibon Solutions, accused of illegally bringing in foreign workers on H-1B visas without having jobs for them — a practice known as "benching."

In court papers, Parker claims that she was given positive reviews by supervisors, including at Infosys, which she maintains oversaw her work and the decision to let her go. The only complaint: Her desk was messy and she'd once been late.

Neither Parker nor other workers involved in similar lawsuits and contacted by The Associated Press would discuss their cases.

Parker's attorney, Dan Kotchen, noted that the case centers on discrimination based on national origin but said that "hiring visa workers is part of how they obtain their discriminatory objectives."

Infosys is seeking a dismissal, in part on grounds that it never hired or fired Parker. Parker was hired by a different subcontractor and kept on, initially, after Infosys began working with Harley-Davidson.

A company spokeswoman said Infosys has about 17,000 employees in the U.S., about 25 percent U.S. hires. In filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said it has more than 22,000 employees with valid temporary work visas, some not in the U.S.

Stanford University Law School fellow Vivek Wadwha, a startup adviser, said firms are so starved for talent they are buying up other companies to obtain skilled employees. If there's a bias against Americans, he said, it's an age bias based on the fact that older workers may not have the latest skills. More than 70 percent of H-1B petitions approved in 2012 were for workers between the ages of 25 and 34.

"If workers don't constantly retrain themselves, their skills become obsolete," he said.

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