OP-ED | Pay Attention To the Man Behind the Curtain - It’s Time for H1B Visa Reform
While millions of SuperPAC dollars are being spent to convince voters that job losses in Connecticut are all the fault of greedy unions and high taxation, I’d like to draw your attention to the “man behind the curtain” — a program they’d rather we don’t look at, which has contributed to a loss of thousands of jobs in our state and depressed middle class incomes: namely, H1B visas being used by outsourcing companies to export American jobs.
The alleged purpose of the H1B visa program is to allow companies to hire foreign professionals with college degrees and specialized skills when they cannot find suitable applicants with those skills in the United States. The original intent of the law wasn’t to allow companies to displace American workers in favor of lower priced foreign labor. Yet, that has been exactly what has been happening here in our state and across the country.
How does it work?
Outsourcing firms like Tata Consulting Services, Infosys, Cognizant, and Accenture soak up a large percentage of the H1B visa pool. They bring over workers to shadow employees who are going to be laid off from U.S. companies. The soon-to-be unemployed workers train the lower-paid H1B visa holder to do their job, so that skills can be transferred to workers in another country.
In Connecticut alone, such practices have cost thousands of middle class jobs. Cigna, Northeast Utilities, HealthNet, Pfizer, and The Hartford, have all reportedly shed U.S. workers in favor of lower paid outsourced labor.
You might wonder why you haven’t heard much about this until recently. That could be because in order to receive their severance packages, employees are typically required to sign a “no disparagement” agreement. Add that to concerns about getting a new job, particularly for older workers, and it’s easy for wealthy tech tycoons to create their own media narrative, regardless of the facts on the ground.
Meriden resident John Bauman, former president of the now defunct advocacy group TORAW (The Organization for the Rights of American Workers) spent five years advocating for the reform of the H1B visa program. “I made over 16 trips to Washington and met with one hundred members of Congress or their staff,” Bauman said. “I left documentation with one hundred more. And there was little support from either party,” for H1B visa reform legislation.
TORAW folded in 2007 because of a lack of funds. The president of the organization before Bauman, previously an IT professional, has been driving an 18-wheeler to make a living.
This makes all the more suspect the pressure to focus on STEM at the expense of Arts and Humanities in our public schools and universities by the same tech titans who are lobbying for raising the cap on H1B visas. “I called colleges in Connecticut to ask them what their placement rate is for IT graduates and none of them could tell me,” Bauman said. “The jobs just aren’t out there.” Free market advocates might start to think twice about the STEM shortage idea by looking at the following graph from the Economic Policy Institute:
“The average hourly wage for college-educated workers in computer and math occupations rose 5.3 percent over 11 years, from $37.27 in 2000 to $39.24 in 2011 (in 2012 dollars), which translates to an average wage increase of less than half a percent per year. If a labor shortage existed in these occupations, one would expect wages to rise sharply as employers try to lure scarce workers to their firms,” according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Supply and demand, right? But if the supply is being filled by more IT departments being outsourced to cheaper labor overseas, that depresses US salaries and will continue to cost Connecticut and workers all across the country their jobs.
John Miano, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and founder of the Programming Guild, who just co-authored “Sold Out: How High-Tech Billionaires and Bipartisan Beltway Crapweasels Are Screwing America’s Best and Brightest Workers” with conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, estimates “about 125,000 jobs a year [are lost] to H1B” visas.
Perhaps after all these years John Bauman’s message is finally getting through to Congress. This week, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, and Dick Durbin, D-IL, introduced bipartisan legislation to reform the H-1B visa program, consistent with Congress’s original intent, “by ensuring that qualified American workers are given the first opportunity at high-skilled job opportunities.” Among the proposed reforms are increased enforcement, modified wage requirements and protection for American workers as well as visa holders. The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, Bill Nelson, D-FL, and Sherrod Brown, D-OH.
Miano said: “It’s good to finally see a bill that addresses abuse in the H1B Program.”
The problem, as always, will be getting legislation through Congress, where — sadly — the donations of high-tech billionaires speak louder than the despair of middle class voters losing their livelihoods.
Of the requests for comment on this story I sent to our Connecticut delegation on Monday, I heard back from Blumenthal, who is co-sponsoring the legislation, and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who said: “Employers seeking H1B workers must confirm that they have tried to recruit American workers, and that hiring H1B visa holders will not displace Americans in similar occupations. We need to ensure that businesses seeking to benefit from specialized talent are not jeopardizing employment opportunities for our own skilled workforce.”
Through a spokeswoman, Esty said she would support of a similar bill in the House because “well-documented instances of abuse make it clear that reform is necessary.”
Esty was the only member of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation to respond to our request for comment on the issue.
Those of you who are spending a fortune sending your kids to college for STEM degrees might want to give them a call.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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