Some IT jobs signal preference for visa holders, report claims

Group calls on job board to pull problematic ads

A group that monitors IT help wanted advertisements claims that there are many job ads specifically designed to recruit visa holders and not U.S. workers, a practice it charges is discriminatory.

These IT companies often express in the ad's job title a specific interest in hiring someone on a visa. The ads may often include asking for someone on "OPT" -- that is, a recent college graduate who can work under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa program.

Top employers using OPT visas

Employer Approvals
Microsoft 73
Reliable Software Resources Inc. 49
Bartronics America Inc. 44
Lead IT 42
Cognizant 38
Indus Valley Consultants Inc. 38
Horizon Technologies Inc. 37
Oracle 36
V-Soft Consulting 33
IT America Inc. 32
Unemployed 32
AVCO Consulting 31
Infolob Solutions Inc. 30
The table shows employers with the most approvals for OPT extension requests for F-1 students with a STEM major. The data comes from a spreadsheet of more than 40,000 requests for OPT extensions that was acquired by a Computerworld source via a Freedom of Information Act request and subsequently analyzed by Computerworld. The data covers a period beginning in 2008, when OPT was extended from 12 to 29 months. Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service

The OPT program allows someone to work in the U.S. for up to 29 months on a student visa and doesn't provide the same prevailing wage requirements that H-1B employers must follow. The U.S. in 2008 extended the amount of time someone can work on OPT from 12 to 29 months. OPT workers, specifically, tend to be hired by a wide range of companies. (See accompanying list.)

The report by Bright Future Jobs, a group that advocates for workers on tech labor issues, cites 100 job ads on Dice.com that appeared over a period of several months. The report says these ads were designed to signal a preference for hiring foreign workers.

"It is clear from the ads that they are excluding Americans," said Donna Conroy, director of the Chicago-based group.

The group is calling on Dice, a major tech job board, to "remove all job ads that even have a hint of discrimination."

Dice, in response, said it has "very strict guidelines," regarding ads and "zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind on our site," said Tom Silver, the vice president of Dice, in a statement published Thursday on the company's web site.

Dice has more than 80,000 ads and said that on a daily basis, it will proactively search for various discriminatory terms.

Dice guidelines include prohibiting any job posting "that discriminates on the basis of citizenship status or national origin."

The Bright Future Jobs report maintains that the ads may make a "thinly disguised attempt to appear inclusive," to ward off any charges of discrimination.

One ad posted last month by a "confidential company" in Irvine, Calif., is specific in the job title about what it wants: "Seeking MS graduates in OPT for internships/project placements" in its SAP practice. But lower down in the ad, under qualifications, it says: "U.S. citizens, green card holders or candidates on OPT status."

One ad from AET Solutions says it is "Looking for Fresher's," a term that is widely used in India to recruit recent college graduates, while offering free training for OPT students. It is seeking "fresh graduates" with a master's degree in computer science or software engineering.

Siraj Khan, vice president of operations at Sterling Heights, Mich.-based AET, said the only reason the ad mentions OPT and other visas specifically is because the company wants to be certain that anyone applying for a job had the right work authorizations. The ad is not meant to be discriminatory and his company will hire any qualified worker, Khan said.

The Bright Future Jobs report claims that the job ads it cites are designed to be easily found by foreign workers because they will often include many visa terms. These same ads, however, may list few specific technical skills. The jobs group said a reason for the vagueness on technical skills is to keep the job ads off the radar of people conducting a search based on specific technical skills and certifications.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS 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.

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