H-1B Visa Program Has Been Hijacked by Outsourcers
On Jan. 14, 2010, senior executives at Molina Healthcare in Long Beach, Calif., called their staff together for a somber meeting. The company had done poorly the previous quarter, they announced. Dozens of people in the IT department would have to be let go.
What the fired employees didn’t know was that the previous day, the US Department of Labor had approved applications for 40 temporary workers from India to be placed at Molina, through a company called Cognizant.
The fired employees — all US citizens or green card holders — were earning an average of $75,000 a year, plus benefits; the new workers, brought on H-1B visas, earned $50,000, with no benefits, according to a lawsuit filed by the ex-employees. The lawsuit alleges that Molina was flush with cash at the time, and that the real reason employees were fired was their nationality.
“The business model is to replace Americans,” said James Otto, their attorney.
Not just at Molina, he said. “It’s happening across the country.”
The issue of “offshoring” American jobs has sparked emotional debate for decades, ever since factories began moving to cheap-labor destinations like India and China. But over the last dozen or so years, a quieter transformation has been taking place: the transfer of high-tech jobs to non-US citizens here in the United States.
H-1B visas, which allow immigrants who are sponsored by their employers to work in the United States for a limited term, have become ground zero in the looming battle in Congress over the complex issue of immigration reform. Supporters of the program argue the US economy badly needs more high-tech workers from overseas. Americans aren’t studying enough math and science, the argument goes, so we must look elsewhere to grow our economy.
“In Silicon Valley, Austin, Chicago, or anywhere else in the United States I hear from CEOs that the H-1B visa system is inadequate for today’s human capital marketplace,” Robert Greifeld, CEO of the firm NASDAQ OMX, told Congress in 2011. The cap on visas “is robbing America of the next generation of great companies.”
Vivek Wadhwa, a former H-1B visa holder, speaks about foreign high-tech workers in messianic terms. “We can either trip up the entrepreneurs who are going to reinvent America and save the world, or we can fix this problem,” he told the same congressional hearing. “It’s imperative that we allow Silicon Valley, our entrepreneurs, our technologists to do their magic and to save us.”
But if these workers have such superior abilities, why not make it easier for them to become Americans? Why bring them here on temporary H-1B visas that keep them chained to the company that sponsored them for years?
The reason that many employers use H-1B visas is not because of foreign workers’ special skills, but because these workers come relatively cheap.