Editor's note: This story really struck a nerve with readers; their comments and questions about the H-1B visa program are highlighted in this follow-up: Readers rant about IT worker who trained H1-B replacement.
This is the story of an IT worker who was replaced by a worker on an H-1B visa, one of a number of visa holders, mostly from India, who took jobs at this U.S. company. Computerworld is not going to use the worker's name or identify the companies involved to protect the former employee from retaliation. For purposes of this story, the worker has been given initials -- A.B. (They're not the person's real initials.)
At A.B.'s company, about 220 IT jobs have been lost to offshore outsourcing over the last year. A.B. is telling the story because, initially, there was little knowledge among fellow employees about H-1B visa holders and how they are used. They didn't know that offshore outsourcing firms are the largest users of H-1B visas, or exactly how this visa facilitates IT job losses in the U.S.
"I think once we learned about it, we became angrier toward the U.S. government than we were with the people that were over here from India," A.B. said, "because the government is allowing this."
The IT workers at this firm first learned of the offshore outsourcing threat through rumors. Later, the IT staff was called into an auditorium and heard directly from the CIO about the plan to replace them. It would take months for the transition to be completed, in part because of some new system installations.
Many younger IT workers found jobs and left. Mainframe workers were apparently in demand and also able to find new jobs. But older workers with skills in open systems, storage and SAN faced a harder time. About half the IT staffers, mostly the older ones, would stay to the end.
Training the replacement workers involved holding morning-long WebEx meetings several times a week with offshore outsourcing staff based in India. The sessions were recorded as details about the environment, including diagrams and scripts, were shared.
As they moved closer to the termination date for the U.S. workers, the overseas employees would follow or shadow, via WebEx sessions, everything an IT worker did during the day. The outsourcing firm's onshore staff helped to coordinate these efforts, but also worked to untangle the meaning of some of the questions.
The overseas workers did not appear to have much practical experience, and the same questions were asked repeatedly, A.B. said.
Before they lost their jobs, A.B.'s co-workers decided to made a subtle and symbolic protest over what was happening: As the H-1B visa workers gradually took over the offices once occupied by U.S. workers, one employee brought in a bunch of small American flags on sticks.
The flags were retrofitted so they could fit into the walls of the cubicles.
(Computerworld viewed a photograph of the cubicle flags, but decided not to publish it to protect A.B's identity.)
The flags were displayed, cubicle after cubicle, much like way flags are hung on homes in a residential neighborhoods on the 4th of July. They were visible to anyone walking down the hall. "That was the only thing that we could do," A.B. said. "We felt that we were making a statement. But to be honest, I don't think the Indian workers fully understood what was going on."