U.S. tech workers feeling pinch of new world economy

Posted: Jun 10, 2003 12:00 AM

The Boston Globe revealed why tens of thousands of information technology jobs have been outsourced overseas in the past couple of years, and why major U.S. banks, brokerage houses and insurance companies plan to ship 500,000 more jobs abroad in the next five years.

A graduate of the Indian Institutes of Technology with a master's in business administration can be hired for $12,000. Compare that to the average starting salary or $102,338 for a Harvard Business School graduate.

The figure of a half-million jobs was reported by business consulting firm A.T. Kearney Inc., which surveyed 100 major companies. It is all a matter of money; the big banks are following the trail to Asia blazed by Microsoft Corp. and IBM.

A study by Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass., estimates that the rush to export U.S. jobs will accelerate, and that U.S. corporations will send 3.3 million jobs overseas by 2015. India is expected to get 70 percent because many Indians speak English.

The future is now. U.S. companies already employ Indians to do research and development, prepare tax returns, evaluate health insurance claims, transcribe doctors' medical notes, analyze financial data, dun for overdue bills, read CAT scans, create presentations for investment banks, and more.

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. is planning to set up an equity research department in Bombay, India, and build up its Technopolis, India, office to 1,100 employees by the end of this year. Delta Air Lines has contracted with two Indian companies to handle some reservations.

Morgan Stanley plans to experiment with hiring stock analysts in India, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup are studying the benefits of shipping research jobs to India. Industry observers say that every bank on Wall Street will soon reap the cost benefits of the inexhaustible supply of business graduates in India eager to work for as little as 10 percent of the market rate in New York or London.

General Electric Co. shifted software development and back-office jobs to India under Chief Executive Officer Jack Welch. Today, GE's Indian engineers are contracted for tasks as sophisticated as analyzing the materials for and the design of engines for new jet airplanes.

Not only U.S. steelworkers and blue-collar manufacturing workers are getting shafted by the global economy. So are smart college graduates. As one executive, who has no shame about replacing U.S. citizens with foreigners, said, "If it can be done by sitting at a desk in front of a computer, then it can be done abroad."

Some U.S. companies, such as American Express Co., are using Indians to service U.S. customers by telephone. The Indians adopt Western names (Sanjeep becomes Sam, Radhika turns into Ruth), learn how to avoid British colloquialisms and take speech therapy so that they sound like American.

Many U.S. companies subcontract with Indian software-serving companies, especially with the three largest: The Tata Group of Companies, Infosys Technologies Ltd. and Wipro Technologies. These companies transfer their employees to the United States on L-1 visas, which are supposed to be issued only to key employees.

Business Week reported that L-1 visas were the ticket of entry to take a U.S. job for half of Tata's 5,000 workers, for one-third of Infosys' 3,000 U.S.-based workers, and for 32 percent of Wipro's U.S. employees. L-1 visas enable Indian workers to replace U.S. workers. Many of these Indian workers bring their spouses and children to the United States on L-2 visas.

New Jersey residents were shocked to learn that state officials had hired contractors who in turn arranged for operators working in Bombay to handle calls from the state's welfare recipients. New Mexico residents were shocked when KOAT-TV reported that the state hired aliens as computer programmers in the Taxation and Revenue Department and paid private attorneys to process their work visas.

The large amount of taxpayer-paid computer work performed by non-citizens for at least 12 state governments and nine federal agencies is a scandal crying out for investigation.

Age discrimination is a significant factor in the layoffs of U.S. citizens. The termination rate for those over age 40 is generally 10 times higher than for those under 40, and even those as young as 35 are at risk.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is defending itself against a lawsuit alleging that it laid off 2,500 older U.S. workers and replaced them with young, lower-paid workers from India. The lawsuit alleges that Sun discriminated on race, national origin and age, and that Sun manifested an "institutional bias" in favor of Indian workers because they are "more compliant" and "less willing to make waves."

Not only is the claim made by many tech companies that the United States suffers a shortage of computer programmers and engineers a fraud, but so is the claim that the aliens they import have specialized knowledge that is needed to retain the tech industry's competitive edge. In fact, most foreigners coming in on H-1B or L-1 visas are ordinary workers making ordinary salaries.