Revisiting Jeb Bush on the H-1B visa -- and the displaced IT worker who asked for help

The then-Florida governor demurred on aid to worker in '02, now favors expanding the visa cap

jeb bush announcement
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during a kickoff rally in Miami on Monday. Credit: Joe Skipper/Reuters

Florida has a history when it comes to the replacement of U.S. workers with foreign workers on temporary visas. It ought to be a familiar story to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who on Monday announced plans to run for the Republican presidential nomination.

In 2002 and 2003, IT workers at a Siemens unit in Lake Mary, Fla. had to train their temporary visa-holding replacements -- they had either an L-1 or H-1B visa through an India-based IT services firm. Mike Emmons was one of the affected IT employees who lost his job.

In September, 2002, Emmons wrote then-Gov. Bush about it. "Management has their permanent employees training these Indians to take over their jobs," wrote Emmons, who wanted help. (The email is part of an email archive released by Bush covering his years as governor from 1999 to 2007.)

An aide to the governor told Emmons there wasn't much the state could do because visas were a federal matter. "Governor Bush has limited abilities to intervene," the aide wrote.

Emmons was urged to work with federal representatives. "Please know this is due to a lack of jurisdiction and not lack of support," the aide wrote.

But Bush does not come across as either supportive or sympathetic to displaced IT workers in a 2013 book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, written with Clint Bolick. The book argues that the current cap on H-1B visas -- a 65,000 base cap and a 20,000-visa cap for advanced degree holders -- is "hopelessly inadequate."

On the broader question of outsourcing, Bush and Bolick wrote: "At the same time as many Americans complain about companies that 'outsource' their labor needs, our immigration policies are driving away companies by making it impossible for them to meet their need for talent inside our borders -- at tremendous cost in the loss of highly paid jobs, tax revenues and economic growth and dynamism."

Flash forward to 2015, where there has been much news of IT worker displacements at Southern California Edison and Disney.

Bush was asked this week by a reporter to comment about firms using H-1B visa holders to displace U.S. workers. According to a report in BuzzFeed, this is what Bush said: "I've actually seen it on Fox, three or four times, this subject. I've been curious to know what the full story is.... Sometimes you see things in the news reports, you don't get the full picture. Maybe that's the case here."

Asked about Bush's comment, one Disney IT worker who had to train his replacement said that, based on the reactions to the layoffs at his former employer, "it would almost seem to be political suicide to not side with the American IT worker." (The worker asked not be identified.)

Today, Emmons, who works as an app developer at a company he asked not be named, is not surprised that IT workers face the same problem today that he confronted more than a decade ago.

"There are very, very few in Washington D.C. that care for American workers -- less than a handful," said Emmons. "For the majority of the time politicians are lining their campaign accounts with corporate campaign donations" and only talk about helping U.S. workers around election time.

Of Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state now seeking the Democratic nomination for president, Emmons said that at about the same time he was in touch with Clinton's staff about the outsourcing, Clinton -- then a U.S. senator from New York -- was at the 2003 grand opening of a Tata Consultancy Services office in Buffalo. Tata was the contractor at Siemens.

"The truth is, once the election is over, they do a 180 and create laws that actually harm American workers," said Emmons. "Neither party will do anything to help Americans work in America."

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