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Hearings on H-1B Visa Abuse Highlight Problematic System; No Clear Path to Reform Set


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The U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration heard testimony from supporters, opponents, and victims of the H-1B visa system during recent hearings.  The H-1B program is intended to provide opportunities to foreign workers but is rife with abuse.  Many companies use the program to replace American workers in order to depress wages.  Often, the American workers being replaced are forced to train their foreign replacements in their last months on the job.  

Testifying before the committee was Leo Perraro, who had previously done Information Technology (IT) work for Disney.  Disney is one of the worst H-1B offenders, having replaced much of its IT staff with temporary foreign workers in a manner that is widely considered to be outside the intended scope of the program.  There are only 85,000 H-1B visas granted per year by the government, but Indian IT outsourcing firms such as Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services, and HCL America (the company hired by Disney), constitute six of the ten companies receiving them.

In powerful testimony, Perraro described the shock of being let go and his dismay at having no recourse against the abrupt firing:

An internal meeting was called and Perrero gathered with co-workers, expecting good news of some sort. Instead, they were notified that had 90 days remaining at Disney and would be laid off on Jan. 30, 2015. But before that happened, they would be training their foreign replacements.

Perrero wondered how he would tell his family that “I would soon be living on unemployment.”

Perrero paused. The room was still as the audience waited for him to continue.

“Later that same day I remember very clearly going to the local church pumpkin sale and having to tell the kids that we could not buy any because my job was going over to a foreign worker,” he said.

“How could it be that everybody who hears about Disney and the like … are completely shocked,” said Perrero. “Yet lawmakers continue to evade the topic and take no action.”

H-1B reform, however, does have supported on both sides of the political aisle.  Ultra-conservative Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who is on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, is joined by labor unions in a collective call for change. It appears that blatant abuse of workers — in this case both foreign and domestic — makes unlikely political bedfellows.

Among those testifying on behalf of the labor movement was John Miano of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers and Communications Workers of America Local 37083.  He argued that:

“…employers consistently classify nearly all H-1B workers at the lowest two skill levels where the H-1B ‘prevailing wage’ is below the normal prevailing wage (the median). This data demonstrates that employers view the H-1B program as a mechanism for importing low-skilled, low-wage workers. If the H-1B program was limited to aliens whose skill level commands merely the median wage (average skill level), the H 1B quotas would not come close to being reached. If H-1B was limited to high-skilled individuals, the quotas would not be a factor.”

Miano listed the key problems with the H-1B visa program:

• The H-1B program is too complicated; once under 100 words, the legislation governing it is now nearly 7,000 words;
• The H-1B program allows employers to replace Americans;
• The H-1B program allows employers to pay aliens ridiculously low wages;
• The H-1B program does not require recruitment of Americans or showing that Americans are not available;
• The H-1B program includes restrictions on enforcement that allow the system to be abused with impunity;
• The H-1B program should be strictly non-immigrant;
• There needs to be better data reporting to monitor the H-1B program;
• The only protection for American workers under the H-1B program is the annual quota.

Political action on this issue does not appear imminent, however.  Many in the Senate, including committee member Chuck Schumer of New York, say they support reform but prefer a comprehensive immigration bill to piecemeal solutions.  For more articles on foreign worker visa abuse, peruse this curated search of our archives.


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