By Joe Guzzardi
March 18, 2015
Since the early 1990s when Congress created the employment-based H-1B visa, allegedly for high skilled workers who would temporarily fill a supposed gap of similarly talented Americans, two things have been constants. First, Silicon Valley’s executives have persistently refused to honestly answer direct questions about how they use and abuse the visa. And second, prominent figures like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, immigration lawyers, and Chamber of Commerce presidents past and present have lobbied for increases in the visa cap even as the IT industry has laid off thousands of workers. Last year, the tech sector announced nearly 60,000 layoffs, a 69 percent increase from the previous year.
In 1992, Lesley Stahl, CBS’ 60 Minutes correspondent, asked then-Hewlett- Packard Chief Executive Officer Lewis Platt to answer one question: “Why do you hire foreign programmers when American programmers are looking for jobs?” Platt’s three word reply: “Sorry, no comment.”
The pattern of firing Americans, replacing them with foreign-born H-1B visa holders, intense lobbying, and shameless dishonesty about how the visa is manipulated has continued unabated for a quarter of a century. Knowledgeable sources refer to the H-1B deceit as “the big lie.”
Under the new Republican-controlled Congress, Senator Chuck Grassley, a long-time H-1B skeptic, became the Judiciary Committee chair. On March 17, Grassley convened a hearing that focused on Senator Orrin Hatch’s recently introduced S. 153, the so called “I-Squared” bill that would nearly triple the annual H-1B visa from 65,000 to 180,000, and the egregious firing of about 500 Southern California Edison employees who were replaced by H-1B visa holders. SCE, which declined Grassley’s invitation to participate, forced its displaced employees to train their replacements or forfeit their severance packages.
Present at Grassley’s hearing were academics, whistleblowers and the usual industry suspects. Defenders of American workers debunked the myths surrounding the H-1B. Among them is the often repeated claim that under H-1B regulations, employers must try to hire Americans first. But, as Senator Grassley observed, the opposite applies—even when an American worker wants or has the job, an H-1B visa holder can replace him. Under the law, employers aren’t required to prove to the Department of Labor that they first looked for Americans.
In support of Senator Grassley, Howard University Public Policy Professor Ron Hira pointed to SCE, and said there were plenty of other examples of corporations that have manipulated the system including Disney, Xerox, Cargill, Harley Davidson, and Pfizer. Hira: “It’s absolutely not true” that employers seeking H-1B’s put American workers first. Instead, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services review found that H-1B fraud is rampant.
Unemployed tech worker and whistleblower Jay Palmer provided the day’s most compelling testimony. Palmer told the committee that despite his devoted service of nearly 20 years to his employer, he was replaced by “cheaper labor,” became the victim of “greed and illegal business schemes or fraud,” and today has “nothing.” Unfortunately, Palmer has a lot of company. Census Bureau data show that 1.8 million American-born individuals with science, technology, engineering and math degrees are either unemployed, out of the labor market or not working in the STEM field.
Even though the annual H-1B visa cap is officially 65,000, because of various exceptions in fiscal year 2014, the federal government approved 315,857 petitions.
Special interests’ repeated false claims of acute shortages don’t reflect the facts on the ground, but are self-serving statements to promote their own agendas to maximize profits by hiring cheap labor. The time is overdue, as Senator Grassley said in his opening remarks, for Congress to stop failing American workers and to put integrity back into U.S. immigration laws.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]