Congress faces decision on visas for foreign workers

Posted: May 06, 2003 12:00 AM

Congressional Republicans will soon have a chance to prove whether they do the bidding of corporate contributors or side with hardworking voters.

Corporations are lobbying to extend a Clinton Administration law that raised the number of workers entering the United States with H-1B visas to 195,000 a year. The law is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30 and revert to the 1999 level of 65,000 H-1B workers per year.

H-1B visas allow corporations to displace U.S. citizens with skilled labor imported from foreign countries. H-1B visas are good for three years and can be extended for three more years. Nobody has an accurate count of how many H-1B alien workers remain indefinitely in the United States, legally or illegally.

However, some observers estimate that there are about 890,000 H-1B aliens working now in the United States. The Immigration and Naturalization Service said that its official count of H-1B aliens probably represents less than 50 percent of those who actually are in the United States.

That is because the INS count excludes workers who were previously approved and had their stay extended. It also excludes the H-1B aliens working for educational institutions and nonprofit organizations.

It is a fiction that the United States suffers a shortage of skilled labor, and most H-1B aliens fill entry-level jobs. By far, the most H-1B visas are issued to people from India. The second largest number of H-1B visas go to workers from China.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment among electronic engineers who are U.S. citizens has soared to 7 percent and among computer hardware engineers to 6.5 percent. Both numbers surpass the national jobless rate of 5.8 percent.

According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, electrical and electronic engineers lost 241,000 jobs in the past two years. Computer scientists and systems analysts lost 175,000 jobs, the IEEE said.

IEEE president John Steadman said he has "never heard" of such high unemployment, and that the wide-open importation of H-1B aliens has substantially contributed to the hardship of U.S. engineers and computer scientists. The result, he said, is "a very substantial and negative effect on the economic conditions of the United States."

Corporations continue importing H-1B aliens at the same time they lay off U.S. citizens. With hundreds of thousands of unemployed U.S. engineers, why should corporations receive special privileges to import even more foreign workers?

Corporations love H-1B aliens, not only because they work longer hours for lower wages, but also because it is more difficult for them to change jobs. This system is an affront to free enterprise because the regulations confine the foreigners to their sponsoring corporations like indentured servants.

Government officials don't check for violations of H-1B regulations or determine if there really is an actual shortage of U.S. skilled workers.

The national media treat H-1B visas as a non-issue, but local newspapers across the country are full of reports about how U.S. workers are laid off and replaced with foreign workers. The San Jose Mercury News found scores of complaints filed by attorneys, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Departments of Justice and Labor.

"One recruiter flatly told me they have 50 H-1Bs willing to work cheap ahead of me in line," a Dallas database administrator said.

Another U.S. citizen who filed a complaint with the EEOC alleged that SwitchOn Networks fired him after six months and replaced him with an H-1B alien with less education and less experience, paying him $30,000 a year less.

Bob Simoni, who has a master's degree in business administration from the University of California, Los Angeles, thought he had a good job with Toshiba installing software, but Toshiba suddenly outsourced his division to an India-based company, Infosys, which employs workers with H-1B visas in the United States. Simoni was allowed to stay for three weeks to do "knowledge transfer," a euphemism for training an H-1B worker to replace him.

Computer science expert Dr. Norman Matloff provided ample proof to the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration that H-1B aliens depress wages for all workers. He cited a UCLA study that H-1B engineers were paid 33 percent less than comparable U.S. citizens; a Cornell University study that found wages 20 percent to 30 percent less; and a Forbes Magazine report that wages earned by workers with H-1B visas are 25 percent to 30 percent less.

This is not free-market economics. It is collusion between corporations that pour big money into politics to pass legislation that replaces U.S. workers with foreign substitutes. The law keeps wages artificially low for the benefit of corporate profits.

Another device used by employers to bring in alien workers is the L-1 visa. L-1 visas are intended to enable multinational corporations to transfer executives, managers and employees with specialized skills from a foreign office to a U.S. location or affiliate. But L-1 visas have fewer stipulations and are easy to abuse.

Mike Emmons told how his former employer, Siemens ICN, used L-1 visas to replace 20 U.S. computer workers with aliens from India.

"Management mandated we train our foreign replacements, then Americans were shown the door," Emmons said. "It was the most demoralizing thing I have ever experienced."

Tell your representatives in Congress that importing hundreds of thousands of alien workers at a time of unemployment and economic recession is not only absurd, but an insult to all U.S. citizens.