Controversial YouTube video puts sharp focus on tech job ads

H-1B opponents claim companies are advertising for positions that aren't really open

Cisco Systems Inc. placed a help-wanted ad for a network consulting engineer in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday, June 3, and David Huber, a networking professional who lives in Chicago, was interested in the job.

The ad copy read, "No phone calls please." But Huber, a University of Chicago graduate whose prior work included being the lead LAN/WAN network engineer for NASA's aborted X-33 rocket plane project, called Cisco and asked for the person named in the ad. "Before I send my resume into a black hole, I always like to talk to the recruiter first," he said this week.

A Cisco telephone operator gave Huber the phone number of an immigration law firm in Santa Clara, Calif. "Why would I be talking with somebody at an immigration law firm about this?" he wondered.

Huber said his question was answered a couple of weeks later when he saw the controversial YouTube video that shows an attorney from a Pittsburgh law firm providing advice to employers on how to deal with government requirements for seeking U.S. workers to fill jobs before hiring foreign workers. "It seems obvious to me after that video what's going on," Huber said.

The video was posted on June 16 by the Programmers Guild, a Summit, N.J.-based professional association. It features excerpts from a series of videos that were posted previously on YouTube LLC's Web site by Pittsburgh-based law firm Cohen & Grigsby PC, and then removed. In one sequence, recorded during a hiring seminar held May 15 by Cohen & Grigsby, a lawyer from the firm says, "Our goal is clearly not to find a qualified and interested U.S. worker."

The YouTube video has clearly resonated with opponents of the H-1B visa program -- including Huber, who testified last year at a congressional hearing in Washington, where he claimed that the H-1B program was the reason a utility company laid him off in May 2003 in favor of using less expensive foreign workers.

U.S. immigration law sets advertising requirements for positions that may be filled by H-1B holders or foreign workers who are seeking green cards. In terms of the latter, the requirements -- part of the government's Program Electronic Review Management process -- include a stipulation that a help-wanted ad should appear in a Sunday newspaper. Under the PERM rules, employers must show that there are no qualified U.S. workers for the positions they're looking to fill.

But H-1B critics, such as Huber, take it as an article of faith that companies are running ads for high-tech jobs that really aren't intended for U.S. workers. Examples of suspect ads are distributed on mailing lists of H-1B opponents, and the Programmers Guild last year filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice claiming that about 300 IT employers were placing help wanted ads that specifically sought foreign workers with visas.

Jennifer Greeson, a spokeswoman for Cisco, acknowledged that the ad for the network consulting engineer that Huber spotted was placed to meet U.S. Department of Labor requirements for hiring foreign workers. But, she said, "it is a real job ad" that was intended "to determine whether there is someone who meets our need" in the U.S. American workers are being considered for the position, she added.

Moreover, Greeson said that Cisco is aggressively hiring U.S. workers. The networking vendor has added 8,000 or so employees in the U.S. over the past two years and now has about 32,000 workers in this country, she said. Some of the employee growth is because of acquisitions, but most of it has been from job growth at the company, according to Greeson.

Cisco is also a major user of H-1B visas, having been issued 828 during the federal government's fiscal year that ended last September, according to government figures released last month by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Cisco ranked 13th on the list of the largest H-1B employers, which was topped by India-based Infosys Technologies Ltd. with 4,908 visas.

The YouTube video posted by the Programmers Guild ultimately may turn up on high-definition TV screen in a congressional hearing room, depending on how far Grassley and U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) pursue the hiring practices issue. Grassley and Smith have asked the Labor Department to investigate the matter, saying in a statement that Cohen & Grigsby's attorneys were advising employers "to hire only foreign labor, while making it nearly impossible for a qualified American worker to get the job."

Elizabeth Charnock, CEO of Cataphora Inc., in Redwood City, Calif., said the attorneys were stupid -- but honest -- in explaining the visa requirements. Cataphora develops electronic discovery software used in litigation, and Charnock said the company has a particular need for people with programming skills and advanced degrees in mathematics to develop the algorithms for document searches.

A company may have a very qualified foreign national who has worked for it on an H-1B visa for several years and who it now wants to sponsor for permanent residency, Charnock said. But under the PERM requirements, "you have to find someone who is more qualified for that job than the person who has been doing it for three years," she said. "That person probably doesn't exist."

If the foreign worker does get a green card, Charnock added, "not only does he or she stay in the country, but so too does the job."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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