American workers who’ve been replaced by immigrants brought over on the H-1B visa are protesting their treatment. The New York Times has the story:
Marco Peña was among about 150 technology workers who were laid off in April by Abbott Laboratories, a global health care conglomerate with headquarters here. They handed in their badges and computer passwords, and turned over their work to a company based in India. But Mr. Peña, who had worked at Abbott for 12 years, said he had decided not to sign the agreement that was given to all departing employees, which included a nondisparagement clause.
Mr. Peña said his choice cost him at least $10,000 in severance pay. But on an April evening after he walked out of Abbott’s tree-lined campus here for the last time, he spent a few hours in a local bar at a gathering organized by technology worker advocates, speaking his mind about a job he had loved and lost.
“I just didn’t feel right about signing,” Mr. Peña said. “The clauses were pretty blanket. I felt like they were eroding my rights.”
The gagging clauses are part of the problem, but the underlying issue—as the NYT makes clear—is the H-1B visa system.
The H-1B is a bad deal all around. American workers get laid off, while the immigrants who take their jobs are bound to their employers in unique and unhealthy ways: if they quit, under the terms of the visa they have to return to their home countries. In practice, this means they put up with lower wages and worse treatment—as we have written, indenturement for the 21st Century. The country is thereby deprived of the dynamism and creativity of the newcomers that usually is one of the major benefits of immigration. And eventually, the H-1B-ification of jobs usually paves the way for outsourcing the positions entirely, harming the local community. The only party that benefits is the employer.
Some of the stories the Times tells of those displaced are positively gripping—and outrageous:
“It is very frustrating that you can’t share your story with the public,” said one former Abbott manager, who had worked for the company for 13 years, rising to an important supervisory position. He had prepared a 90-page manual for his foreign replacements showing how to perform every detail of his work. With a disabled child who requires medical care, he said he had to take his severance and its nondisparagement clause, since it extended his medical benefits. So he asked to remain anonymous.
“I’ve been laid off before, I can understand that,” he said. “But these visas were meant to fill in gaps for resources that are hard to find. This time the company actually asked me to transfer my knowledge to somebody else. That changes the equation.”
According to federal rules, temporary visas known as H-1Bs are for foreigners with “a body of specialized knowledge” not readily available in the labor market. The visas should be granted only when they will not undercut the wages or “adversely affect the working conditions” of Americans.
But in the past five years, through loopholes in the rules, tens of thousands of American workers have been replaced by foreigners on H-1B and other temporary visas, according to Prof. Hal Salzman, a labor force expert at Rutgers University.
These abuses of the H-1B—or really, the negative consequences of its use exactly as intended—have caught the eyes of lawmakers including not just not just immigration hawks like Jeff Sessions (R-Al.), but also Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
So far, the H-1B has survived, despite a growing cascade of bad press, because to the Democrats it’s an immigration issue (and thus sacrosanct), and to Republicans, it’s a big-business issue (ditto.) If and when the Republicans start to see it primarily as an abuse of the immigration system, and Democrats start to see it as an abuse of workers by big business—then reform or repeal will follow.