Readers rant about IT worker who trained H1-B replacement

Readers question the need for the H-1B program; we answer some questions about the visa

The story of A. B. and the training of the IT worker's H-1B replacement struck a chord with Computerworld readers. It provided an opportunity for them to vent, argue and share their views about the visa and its impact on U.S. workers.

More than 3,400 people commented on the story, and many sent in emails as well. There were a number of major themes in these responses.

Four of them follow:

One: "There was never actually a rule that they (an employer) had to prove there was no qualified American." Aging Hipster.

Aging Hipster is correct. There is no requirement that companies try to find a qualified U.S. worker before filling a position with an H-1B visa holder.

The U.S. Labor Dept. writes: "The H-1B employer is not required to recruit U.S. workers, unless it is H-1B-dependent."

What does H-1B "dependent" mean? A firm that has 51 or more full-time equivalent employees of whom 15% or more are H-1B visa holder is classified as dependent.

H-1B dependent employers, which include all the major offshore outsourcing providers, "must take good faith steps to recruit U.S. workers for any job for which they seek H-1B workers," according to the Labor Dept. But there are loopholes.

H-1B dependent firms can sidestep the "good faith" hiring rule if they pay their visa-holding workers at least $60,000, or hire a foreign engineer holding an advanced degree.

H-1B workers must be paid the prevailing wage, but the employer that brings in an offshore firm will pay a blended rate that accounts for the differences in U.S. and overseas salaries. Employees overseas are typically paid a fraction of a U.S. salary.

At the start of a contract an offshore outsourcing firm may bring in quite a few H-1B workers to a worksite, but the long-term goal will be to have about 20% of the workers onshore, and 80% offshore. These percentages can vary widely depending on the type of work.

Two: "Sadly, this is all too common." JPRZ.

JPRZ is correct. Offshore outsourcing firms are taking more than 50% of the annual base H-1B visa cap of 65,000. Another 20,000 visas are set aside for advanced degree graduates of U.S. schools.

The two largest H-1B users in 2013 were both Indian-based -- Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services.

Three: "I want these visas eliminated." Email.

A middle aged Florida woman, who believes she lost her telecom job to an H-1B visa holder, wrote to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) about last year's immigration bill that passed in the Senate. In response to A.B.'s story, she shared her correspondence.

The woman asked for anonymity to avoid jeopardizing her job search.

Her letter to Sen Rubio said in part: "I hope you experience the same kind of long-term gut-wrenching poverty and discrimination I am experiencing in the job market because of your corruption."

Rubio wrote back, in part: "As a United States Senator, I will keep your ideas and views in mind while working to promote principles and policies to benefit Floridians and Americans alike."

The Florida woman's frustration, and Rubio's boilerplate response, says something about the political disconnect on this issue. Rubio supports the increase in the H-1B cap included in the Senate immigration bill, with the belief there's a tech skills shortage in the U.S. "You can't grow the middle class if people do not have the skills to get hired for these jobs," said Rubio in 2012.

Rubio is hardly alone in supporting the need for H-1B visas. The Senate immigration bill would more than double the current visa cap. There is significant support from lawmakers in both parties for hiking the cap.

The H-1B visa is rarely raised by candidates in political campaigns There is little evidence that support for the visa hurts at the polls, though David Brat's Virginia primary victory over U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, may be an exception. Brat, an economics professor, focused his attacks on Cantor's stands on immigration issues, including the H-1B visa program.

Four: "This is nothing new. Your article is laughably behind the times." Cletus.

Cletus is correct. The H-1B visa turns 25 next year. The growth of offshore outsourcing as a threat to U.S. IT jobs began in earnest in the late 1990s.

H-1B visa use by IT services companies continues to grow, and visa holders are increasingly used for state and federal government work. A U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services inspector general recently reported that 11 state Medicaid agencies allow offshore outsourcing of administrative functions. H-1B visa workers are being used in government funded health care programs.

Meanwhile, offshore outsourcing firms continue to grow. Cognizant, a U.S.-based IT services firm, a large user of H-1B visas, reported that its revenue in 2013 grew to $8.84 billion, up more than 20% from 2012.

As long as people are forced to leave their jobs and train their visa holding replacements, such as A.B., the H-1B visa will remain one of the biggest stories in tech.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

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