Displaced IT workers are being silenced

Legal agreements -- and fear -- keep them from sharing what they know, leaving half the story untold

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A major problem with the H-1B debate is the absence of displaced IT workers in news media accounts. Much of the reporting is one-sided -- and there's a reason for this.

An IT worker who is fired because he or she has been replaced by a foreign, visa-holding employee of an offshore outsourcing firm will sign a severance agreement. This severance agreement will likely include a non-disparagement clause that will make the fired worker extremely cautious about what they say on Facebook, let alone to the media.

On-the-record interviews with displaced workers are difficult to get. While a restrictive severance package may be one handcuff, some are simply fearful of jeopardizing future job prospects by talking to reporters.

Now silenced, displaced IT workers become invisible and easy to ignore.

This situation has a major impact on how the news media covers the H-1B issue and offshore outsourcing issues generally. To illustrate, The New York Times published a story Nov. 23, "Workers in Silicon Valley Weigh In on Obama's Immigration Action," which looked at the reaction to President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.

The Times spoke with visa-holding employees at tech firms who were frustrated by U.S. immigration policy. There were photographs of some of the people being interviewed, which means their employers welcomed the newspaper's attention.

The employee stories that the newspaper reported on are an important dimension of the H-1B story, but it's not the major issue. It is not what makes people angry or tugs at the soul. (See: This IT worker had to train an H-1B replacement).

The H-1B visa program is used as an engine of displacement by offshore outsourcing companies that employ visa-holding workers by the thousands. From the government data Computerworld has collected in recent years, these firms are applying for visas in ever-increasing shares squeezing out smaller firms. The tech industry's solution is simple: Significantly raise the H-1B cap or remove it entirely.

When a U.S. company signs an agreement with an IT services firm, that firm will bring in its visa-holding workers. The U.S. workers will train the foreign workers and then exit their jobs. They are often older workers. But the story that people will see in print or read about online, is the one about the promising tech start-up that's having trouble hiring an H-1B worker. The national news coverage is skewed, with no simple fix to the problem.

The system of job displacement involves silencing the workers most injured by the process.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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