From Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s immigration advocacy group FWD.us to the Marco Rubio-backed “I-Squared” bill, increasing H-1B visas is a popular goal among immigration reformers. The temporary visa category is supposed to bring tech or other high-skilled workers to the U.S., and so do an end-run around a broken system waiting on comprehensive reform. But the evidence increasingly shows that H-1Bs offer the worst of both worlds: They undercut American jobs, but don’t bring contributing new citizens or legal residents, with new ideas, energy, and potential, into the national community.
We’ve pointed out before how companies including Disney have used H-1B visas to replace American jobs with the 21st century equivalent of indentured workers, who are not allowed to quit or change jobs without going home. (This results in lower wages for employees and better employee control for employers, which is one reason employers love the program.) But as a New York Times story illustrates today, the H-1B is also used as a tool to pave the way for outsourcing abroad:
For four weeks this spring, a young woman from India on a temporary visa sat elbow to elbow with an American accountant in a snug cubicle at the headquarters of Toys “R” Us here. The woman, an employee of a giant outsourcing company in India hired by Toys “R” Us, studied and recorded the accountant’s every keystroke, taking screen shots of her computer and detailed notes on how she issued payments for toys sold in the company’s megastores.
“She just pulled up a chair in front of my computer,” said the accountant, 49, who had worked for the company for than 15 years. “She shadowed me everywhere, even to the ladies’ room.”
By late June, eight workers from the outsourcing company, Tata Consultancy Services, or TCS, had produced intricate manuals for the jobs of 67 people, mainly in accounting. They then returned to India to train TCS workers to take over and perform those jobs there. The Toys “R” Us employees in New Jersey, many of whom had been at the company more than a decade, were laid off.
The contrast between traditional legal immigration and the H-1B was illustrated starkly by the situation at another company, New York Life, that is facing hundreds of H-1B related layoffs at the moment:
[A] hard irony for many of the New York Life employees losing jobs to immigrants is that they are immigrants themselves. They came to the United States a generation ago from the Philippines, Eastern European countries, and even India and raised families in this country. They followed the immigration rules — some coming as refugees, others with work visas and computer degrees from their home countries. Most became American citizens.
One technology manager, an immigrant from Europe, recalled that when he was hired at the insurer. “There was an open position that had to be filled,” he said. “Nobody lost their job because I got my job.”
Groups like Fwd.us are right: Our immigration system does need work. But when “reform” activists push for programs like this, they increase the—already well-grounded—perception that they are dealing in bad faith. Ultimately, that makes real reform—movement toward a system that would work properly and with wide public acceptance—that much harder to attain.