Group Targets IT Job Ads Seeking H-1B Workers

Programmers Guild hopes to spur enforcement of discrimination laws

A programmer advocacy group last week said it is filing complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice against more than 300 IT services firms that it claims are discriminating against U.S. citizens and permanent residents by placing help-wanted ads seeking workers who have H-1B, L-1 or student visas.

John Miano, founder and treasurer of the Summit, N.J.-based Programmers Guild, said he thinks ads expressing a preference for H-1B holders in particular have become widespread because of a lack of oversight by the U.S. government. Such restrictions are illegal under the Immigration and Nationality Act, he claimed.

"There isn't much enforcement going on," Miano said. "So we are trying to do what we can do to bring private enforcement against these employers." He added that about 100 complaints have been filed so far. Typo or Discrimination?

One of the largest companies targeted thus far is iGate Mastech, a Pittsburgh-based software services firm and IT staffing agency with about 1,000 employees, one-third of whom are H-1B visa holders. Last week, iGate Mastech posted an ad on Dice Inc.'s online IT job board seeking Java developers. The job description included this language: "Only looking for H-1B visas."

About 10 other ads placed by the firm on Dice's site didn't have similar language, according to a spot check by Computerworld. The iGate Mastech recruiter listed as the contact for the Java job openings called the H-1B wording in that ad a typo.

But Murali Balasubramanyam, the firm's senior vice president of human resources and recruiting, said that the ad was placed for a large client that first tried to hire U.S. citizens and permanent residents and was unable to do so.

When companies "cannot find suitable candidates," he said, "they come to staffing companies like us and say, 'We haven't been able to find a local citizen here. Can you now get us an H-1B candidate?' "

Rajiv Khanna, an immigration attorney in Arlington, Va., who is representing some companies that have received notices of complaints from the DOJ, has posted a brief advisory on his Web site. "The charges allege that these employers placed ads inviting only nonimmigrants to apply," the advisory reads. "Please stop all such advertising. [The] DOJ is likely to take discriminatory ads very seriously."

Citing the ongoing work he is doing for his clients, Khanna declined to discuss the advisory or the issue as a whole.

DOJ officials had yet to respond to a list of questions about the ads by press time.

The complaints underscore the long-simmering battle over the use of visas to bring foreign IT workers into the U.S. Supporters of the H-1B program include Christopher Carter, CEO of Carter Consulting Inc., a Milwaukee-based company that provides third-party support for SAP systems. Half of Carter's 22 full-time staffers are H-1B holders, and some of the contract workers he also relies on have visas as well.

Visa holders are needed to cover a shortage of SAP support expertise in the U.S., Carter said, adding that he hires the most qualified people for positions and pays his H-1B workers salaries and benefits at the same levels that other full-time employees receive.

Carter said that, in general, H-1B holders are less likely to move to other jobs and are more willing to work extra hours on projects than their U.S. counterparts are. "They are forcing our U.S. people to step to the plate more," he said.

While Carter sees merit to the H-1B program, Richard Harris has been writing to members of the U.S. Congress from his home state of Arkansas to urge them to vote against raising the annual cap of 65,000 H-1B visas.

Harris said that several years ago, he was facing a layoff at a company he asked not be named. He saw an internal job posting that his database skills qualified him for, but it was limited to H-1B holders. Harris, who now works at a bioinformatics firm, said there are plenty of U.S. residents who could fill IT job vacancies. But, he claimed, employers hire H-1B workers to save money. "Let's put the real reason out there," he said.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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