The Senate Judiciary Committee recently held a hearing into abuses of the H-1B skilled guest worker visa program. Lawmakers heard experts describe how the use of foreign workers has come to dominate the IT industry, with many tech giants using the program to fire well-paid current workers and replace them with workers from abroad at significantly lower pay.
"The current system to bring in high-skill guest workers ... has become primarily a process for supplying lower-cost labor to the IT industry," two experts who testified at the hearing, Howard University's Ron Hira and Rutgers' Hal Salzman, wrote recently. "Although a small number of workers and students are brought in as the 'best and brightest,' most high-skill guest workers are here to fill ordinary tech jobs at lower wages."
Exhibit A in the abuse of H-1Bs was the case of Southern California Edison, which recently got rid of between 400 and 500 IT employees and replaced them with a smaller force of lower-paid workers brought in from overseas through the H-1B program. The original employees were making an average of about $110,000 a year, the committee heard; the replacements were brought to Southern California Edison by outsourcing firms that pay an average of between $65,000 and $75,000.
"Simply put, the H-1B program has become a cheap labor program," Hira, author of the book Outsourcing America, testified. "To add insult to injury, Southern California Edison forced its American workers to train their H-1B replacements as a condition of receiving their severance packages."
It was a powerful presentation, especially in light of the fact that many Republicans and Democrats in Congress do not want to address abuses of the H-1B problem but rather want to greatly increase the number of H-1B visa workers allowed into the United States.
But one voice was missing from the hearing, and that was the voice of laid-off workers. That was no accident. In addition to losing their jobs and being forced to train their foreign replacements, many fired workers are required to sign non-disparagement agreements as a condition of their severance. They are workers with families and bills to pay, and they are told that if they do not agree to remain silent, they will be terminated with cause, meaning they will receive no severance pay or other benefits and will face an even tougher search for a new job and a continued career. So they remain silent.
A longtime feature of the Capitol Hill hearing into this or that unfair practice is to hear from the victims of this or that unfair practice. The IT industry has worked to make sure that does not happen in the case of H-1B visa abuse. Still, the Judiciary Committee managed to receive testimonials from four laid-off workers, three from Southern California Edison and one from another company. So to flesh out the H-1B story with the perspective of those who are actually paying the price when H-1B visas are used to displace American workers, here are their anonymous testimonials:
My former company, a large utility company, replaced 220 American IT workers with H-1Bs…we would have to train them in order to receive our severance packages. This was one of the most humiliating situations that I have ever been in as an IT professional.
The whole IT department was going through the same fate as myself. Those were the longest and hardest five months of my life. Not only did I lose a work family, but I lost my job and my self-esteem. We had constant emails sent by HR that we could not talk about this situation to anyone or make posts to social media. If we did, we would be fired immediately and not get our severance.
We had jobs and there was no shortage of skilled labor that would make it necessary to bring in H-1Bs. We were let go and replaced by foreign workers who certainly weren't skilled to take our positions.
I am an IT professional and worked for Southern California Edison for over two decades. I was a loyal employee and always received outstanding reviews. A foreign worker with a H-1B visa recently replaced me.
I am the sole provider of my children. Due to a disability, finding employment at the same wage and with a work modification will be very difficult…It is an ominous possibility that in five years or less I may have no assets, suffer from severe pain and will need to go on full disability with a catastrophic decrease in income. The loss of my job may rob me of a secure retirement.
My layoff has made my children fearful of their future and the security of their home. If I stay in the IT field I run a high risk of again being replaced by a foreign worker.
It's a farce teaching our kids STEM when the government is permitting U.S. companies to abuse the H-1B visa program, which allows foreigners to take these future jobs from them.
I voted for President Obama and was appalled that he implemented a rule change, which allows work permits to H-1B spouses. My future votes will only go to candidates that support reforms to the H-1B visa program that preserve the American worker.
I started working at Southern California Edison several decades ago. SCE was a company that many people started with at a young age, could work there through their lifetimes, and retire with a good pension and benefits. That was my plan. And I would have been able to do exactly that -- until an executive announced a couple years ago that my department was going to be outsourced.
We were forced to train the less qualified foreign workers hired to take our jobs.
Over 400 hardworking, intelligent people have lost their jobs due to the H-1B visa program. Many of us, and countless more like us, face enormous hurdles to find new jobs -- why would companies want to hire us when they can hire cheaper workers on the H-1B visa to do our jobs for us?
As longtime employees we loved the work we were doing and the people we were working with. We did a great job. Our work mattered. The work we performed was instrumental in building a world-class business unit.
Through no fault of my own my job was just given to someone else with a lot less experience, knowledge and skills, lowering my standard of living and raising theirs so Edison could save a few dollars and reward stockholders with a few more pennies on their dividends.
I and most of my co-workers are completely disgusted that Edison can fire us and replace us with foreign workers, abusing the H1-B program. We cannot understand how the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission), Governor and Congress, President and media can all ignore this abuse and just pretend it doesn't matter. It's as if we no longer matter or have value as human beings or American citizens.
It's certainly true that other workers in other industries have lost jobs because companies wanted to cut costs. Highly-paid middle-aged workers have been replaced by younger employees working for less. That can be an unhappy fact of life in today's economy. But in the case of H-1Bs, the federal government is expressly giving a special permit to foreign workers — actually, to large outsourcing firms that use H-1Bs to bring those workers to the U.S. — in order to displace American workers. And now many lawmakers in both parties — their task made simpler by the enforced silence of fired and angry workers — want even more H-1Bs. Is that something the government should do?