The U.S. House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), is urging the University of California to drop its plans to send some IT jobs offshore.
The IT employees "have been placed in the untenable position of having to train their replacements -- foreign nationals brought to the United States under the H-1B program" by the university's IT contractor, Pelosi wrote in a letter last week to Janet Napolitano, the university president.
"This misuse of the H-1B visa program is deeply troubling," said Pelosi.
UC-San Francisco (UCSF) employees recently demonstratedoutside their IT offices and complained about being put in the position of having to train their replacements. Some of the IT employees are now threatening a discrimination lawsuit.
Pelosi's letter is part of the political backlash over a decision by the university's San Francisco campus to lay off early next year 49 permanent IT employees, along with 30 contractors. The employees were notified of the cuts after HCL, an IT outsourcing firm and user of H-1B visa workers, was hired under a contract valued at $50 million over five years.
"The H-1B program was designed to enhance American competitiveness by supplementing the American workforce with highly-skilled foreign nationals in the event of critical shortages in the U.S. labor market," said Pelosi. "Congress did not design the program to replace -- or outsource -- American jobs, or to lower domestic wages."
What is happening at UCSF is common in the private sector. IT departments routinely transfer work offshore and often rely on offshore IT services firms to make it happen. These firms use temporary visa workers to accomplish the work, which is allowed under the law. Lawmakers have long stymied reform of the visa program by insisting that changes be part of a comprehensive immigration bill.
UCSF is getting significant attention because it is a public university and taxpayer supported. Offshoring of public sector IT workers is rare.
Pelosi is among several lawmakers who have sent letters to Napolitano, who has yet to respond publicly. Previous requests for comment to her office have been unanswered.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also wrote to Napolitano with similar criticisms.
The Communications Workers of America (CWA) is also firing at the university for a statement it made, earlier this month, in response to questions about its outsourcing. In that statement, the university said: "UCSF has no plans to use the H-1B visa program to bring in foreign IT professionals to work as UCSF employees."
The CWA said the employer has to submit a labor condition application (LCA) to the Department of Labor when it sends H-1B visa holders to a particular worksite. The LCA includes position, salary and worksite address. Computerworld has received copies of some of the LCA notices posted in an UCSF breakroom.
The CWA called the UCSF statement "doublespeak" and argued that "technically, UC isn't the H-1B employer," it's the contractor using the H-1B workers to displace the U.S. workers.