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OP-ED | Pay Attention To the Man Behind the Curtain - It’s Time for H1B Visa Reform

by | Nov 12, 2015 6:23pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: International Trade, Congress, Jobs, Labor, Opinion

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.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(20) Archived Comments

posted by: Fisherman | November 13, 2015  9:08pm

A degree in STEM is a FAR BETTER INVESTMENT than one in Early Child Development, Sociology, Poetry, Creative Writing, Photography, Activism, and especially… the “Liberal Arts”.

posted by: Truth_To_Power | November 13, 2015  9:30pm

I see this replacement of long-time employees with outsourced companies more and more, at an ever increasing rate, at my company.

posted by: oliviahuxtable | November 15, 2015  10:17am

Excellent article, Sarah. I know two people….one a nurse and one an engineer,  who were forced to train their overseas replacements.
The most cogent thought in your op-ed is billionaire donations speaking louder than middle class workers. And there lies the root of many of our country’s problems…politicians purchased by fat cats. Unfortunately,  the middle class cannot buy what is best for us. Our weapon against all of this is to pay attention and vote our best interests. Will we in 2016?

posted by: brutus2011 | November 15, 2015  12:10pm


Amazing duplicity.

Thanks for this.

posted by: artythesmarty | November 15, 2015  4:14pm

This is sad and as an IT person I feel it..I am glad to have 3 more years to go until kids through college but since 2000 this has been rough.  This is not the case in public sector as DMV/DSS had same headcount, fire dept have same headcount, schools have same headcount(including librarians) despite the fact that similar tasks in private business have been outsourced or eliminated by technology.  The photographer in DMV hamden has been there since I took driver ed- and I am 58 years old!

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | November 15, 2015  10:05pm

Wow. An intelligent rambling, how rare!

Well done.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | November 16, 2015  7:30am

Fisherman - you consistently make these pronouncements as if they are facts without providing evidence. There was probably a time when that was the case, but we are now training kids for a world in which that isn’t the case, because we are exporting those jobs overseas. And the same people who are making the case that STEM fields are the ones we should be emphasizing over a well balanced education are the very ones lobbying for more H1B visas, which will further depress the demand for American workers in those fields. Isn’t that special.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | November 16, 2015  7:44am

HST - If that’s your way of saying I wrote a good column, next time just save your breath. Why would you think that’s in any way constructive? With so many awful things going on in the world right now, why do you feel the need to be such an unremitting jerk? Honestly, go out and look at a nice sunset. Find some pleasure in your life so you don’t have to take out your negativity on me. Life is too short to be so nasty to someone you don’t even know. At least I have the courage to write what I write in my own name. You’re a cowardly jerk from behind a screen name. I’ve had to deal with rape threats and worse, had to go to the police who shrug and say they can’t do anything. If you think saying that hurts me, think again, because I’m BEYOND TIRED of dealing with cowardly idiotic anonymous men like you. It just makes me stronger and more determined.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | November 16, 2015  7:45am

ArtytheSmarty - not true about school librarian headcount.  Trust me, I have done the research on this.

posted by: Diogenese | November 16, 2015  7:57am

There is so much that is wrong with the H-1B program that it would probably be better to scrap it and start over. Employers brazenly lie on their applications with impunity because no federal agency is allowed to confirm the veracity of their claims.

posted by: USCTFirst | November 16, 2015  10:19am

Finally, the secret is out that American’s do not want illegal immigrants and visa guest-workers taking our jobs! We don’t want corporations bringing over millions of Indian guest-workers so that they can have cheap labor and claim Americans can’t or won’t do the work-when we held the jobs and had to train our replacements when we were laid off! We don’t want every city or state giving documentation and driver’s licenses to assist illegal immigrants access to services (free) or employment (our jobs)! We don’t want corporations to be allowed to screw with retirees or anybody else’s pensions that were EARNED, or eliminate retiree heath insurance that was PROMISED! We don’t want to be screwed on our taxes because corporations (so called job creators-NOT) don’t want to pay US\State taxes and they keep Billions of dollars offshore! Corporations are NOT people, American citizens are people!! The signs of this are everywhere, and we shouldn’t have needed Donald Trump to point them out.

Americans are losing their jobs to mostly visa holding Indians across this country, entire apartment complexes are filled with these guest workers, stores are full of guest workers since Americans can no longer afford to shop after being fired, training their replacements (here and offshore in India). It is as clear as can be what is going on. 

This is not an immigration comparable to the past, these non-immigrants are being brought over for the single purpose of taking Americans jobs at lower wages. Now visa expansion is the goal of our bought politicians and the corporate lobby; even the trade agreements (TPP) are loaded with language meant to expand foreign guest workers taking what’s left of American jobs. Our representatives say they love America, but they seem to hate Americans.

posted by: Truth_To_Power | November 16, 2015  5:42pm

SDL: given your response to HST it’s obvious that no one at this publication is censoring the censors. Welcome to the side with the power.

Please note that I am neither defending nor rejecting HST’ post. It’s just more than a little discouraging to learn that, as usual, those in power don’t have to play by the same rules they impose on the rest of us.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | November 16, 2015  8:21pm

Truth - I’m not sure exactly what you mean by your comment. I have no control about what is posted here. My comments go through the moderation queue just like yours. I’m just tired of the same anonymous people making unconstructive comments over and over and over again. I’d have much more respect for all of those people if they actually made cogent, fact based arguments.  If that’s how they get their jollies, it says a lot more about them then it ever will about me. Perhaps my comment was let through because the Powers That Be know what I have to put up with on a regular basis and felt I was entitled to speak up for a change. But I know who I am and the value of what I do - I get it from the emails of the young people who write to me about my books and from people who read these pieces and thank me. And no HST, it’s not ME that has issues. I can tell you from long experience (and the experiences of other women online) that is A-1 typical response of a male anonymous commenter when being called out on his behavior towards a woman online.

posted by: RJEastHartford | November 16, 2015  9:06pm

Free to succeed. A marketing slogan used by The Yankee Institute, “a free market limited government think tank.” The misuse of the H1B visa program by corporations is nothing short of “crony capitalism.” Certainly something the Yankee Institute is against. Middle class jobs in IT and STEM fields in Finance, Banking, Insurance and Real Estate continue being lost yet are replaced through a third party provider such as Tata. Next on the list of corporations is ESPN, recently announcing layoffs. Like others, in an effort to cut costs they will employ a third party provider to fill tech positions recently vacated by layoff.  The only member of the Connecticut Congressional delegation to respond is Elizabeth Estey. Where is John Larson?
This has happened in a frightening pace in his district.  Whether conservative “think tank”, progressive congressman, Hartford Courant business editor – where is the indignation? Who is government working for? Who is free to succeed? Corporate donors, perhaps?

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | November 17, 2015  7:59am

Truth makes the ultimate point, no need to fabricate a response, just meet it head on and say something like “oh well, post your own op-Ed if you don’t like it.”  Your venomous and inappropriate attack gets posted, but my simple question to you does not, yet you get to respond to it?

Truth, in the instant case, is truth indeed.

Now, twist up a fatty and chill.


posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | November 17, 2015  8:19am

RJEastHartford - I attended the Yankee Institute/Greenwich Economic Advisory Committee panel on Sunday night “moderated” (and I put that in quotes because the questions were heavily editorialized to drive panelists to speak to his point of view) by Larry Kudlow. At times, my significant other and I were hard put not to laugh out loud by the constant claims that all of these policies being put forth were to benefit the middle class. I kept thinking: WHERE HAVE I HEARD ALL OF THIS BEFORE? I HAVE HEARD ALL OF THIS BEFORE…Oh yeah…it was back in the 80’s when I was in my early twenties and I was a registered Republican, working on Wall St and going for my MBA at night and I believed all that stuff. But if you look at the actual data, what really happened because of those policies? Not what was promised. Nope, the rich got much richer (particularly the 1%) the poor got poorer, and the middle class got screwed. And yet, these folks I live with in Greenwich still stand up in the audience and intone the old 80’s mantra about: “The rising tide raises all boats.” The same chap who said that also wants a Ronald Reagan for a next governor so he can “just fire all the public employees like he did the air traffic controllers.” #animatronicReagan4Governor2016
What upset me about that panel was that it was so incredibly one sided. Ned Lamont was allegedly there for “balance” but they obviously looked for the most business friendly “balance” person they could find. If you want to play to the crowd that’s fine, but then give up any pretense of trying to say you’re being balanced.

posted by: USCTFirst | November 17, 2015  2:15pm

The Hartford cannot deny that they outsource due to cost savings (see:[ https://youtu.be/uSKSwkqTOAg ]. This is not new information [http://www.courant.com/business/hc-hartford-insurance-outsourcing-20141008-story.html]; so where are our representatives?  John Larson?  Even Blumenthal who signed a letter requesting an investigation, followed that up by saying he still wanted move H-1b visa’s. They say they love America, but they clearly hate Americans.

posted by: USCTFirst | November 17, 2015  2:25pm

Please add companies like Aetna, Cigna, Hartford Financial Services (HIG went all in on Indian H-1b’s and offshore India), Travelers, Anthem BCBS, United Healthcare, Voya, GE, pretty much ALL US companies to the list of those firing Americans and replacing them with offshore or onshore visa (H-1b, etc.) guest workers (IBM, Accenture, TCS, Cognizant, Infosys, etc). It is NOT just IT, it’s Finance, and any other operations they can source. The secret is out that American’s do not want illegal immigrants and visa guest-workers taking our jobs! We don’t want corporations bringing over millions of Indian guest-workers so that they can have cheap labor and claim Americans can’t or won’t do the work-when we held the jobs and had to train our replacements when we were laid off! We don’t want every city or state giving documentation and driver’s licenses to assist illegal immigrants access to services (free) or employment (our jobs)! We don’t want corporations to be allowed to screw with retirees or anybody else’s pensions that were EARNED, or eliminate retiree heath insurance that was PROMISED! We don’t want to be screwed on our taxes because corporations (so called job creators-NOT) don’t want to pay US\State taxes and they keep Billions of dollars offshore! Corporations are NOT people, American citizens are people!! The signs of this are everywhere, and we shouldn’t need The Donald to point them out.

posted by: oswell | November 17, 2015  4:37pm

SDL, the H1B does not require that a search for a qualified American take place. From the Dept of Labor:  “employers who wish to hire only H-1B workers who are paid at least $60,000 per year or have a master’s degree or higher in a specialty related to the employment, can be exempted” from requirements that include not displacing American workers.

The H1B only requires that the prevailing wage be paid. There are 4 tiers under this program; the majority of grantees are from India and are categorized in the 2 lowest wage categories. Many are from the diploma mills in India, not the elite institutions.

The visas are granted to companies which more and more are the body shops not software development firms; although the person on the visa may end working at a software development firm or corporation (by way of the software development firm/corporation subcontracting with the body shop, i.e. outsourcing the corporation’s work). Corporations outsource work via 3rd parties, i.e. body shops, to save money but also to not have to go through layoffs. Ending a contract with a vendor is not a layoff. 3rd party vendors/vendors can pay lower rates by categorizing people in the lower tiers, and they price their proposal to the corporation by assuming that visa holders will work 60 to 80 hours a week.

Because there are so many applications for H1B visas they awarded on a lottery basis. Not the best method for getting the brightest and the best; also not the best method for fully vetting each visa recipient.

Not only are American workers being denied the first crack at available work in the US, but the US is not getting the ability to include the brightest & the best in the world in the American workforce. This of course is having collateral damage in other aspects of American life & economy, not just employment.

posted by: USCTFirst | November 18, 2015  10:22am

Our delegation is all about immigration and aiding enemies of our economy and even safety. Where’s the coverage on their attempts to lessen the Syrian refugee screening process?? http://www.independentsentinel.com/check-out-the-latest-expediting-unvetted-syrian-refugees/

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