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White House education plan leaves visa critics flabbergasted

Patrick Thibodeau | Feb. 1, 2016
President Obama’s US$4 billion computer science initiative will get funding from India’s top offshore outsourcers.

Credit: flickr/ttarasiuk

President Barack Obama's $4 billion computer science initiative, announced Saturday, is getting financial help from two India-based IT offshore firms. They are joining other tech firms contributing to parts of this program.

The firms, Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services, sit at the top of the pyramid of IT services firms that rely on H-1B visas. They are among the most successful firms in the IT services business.

Infosys and Tata delivered IT services to Southern California Edison and Northeast Utilities (now called Eversource Energy). Employees complained of being forced to train foreign workers to take their jobs, often as a condition of their severance packages.

Most recently, Northeast Utilities IT workers hung small American flags on their cubicles. The flags were meant to protest the transfer of their jobs to the IT services firms.

"It's a no-brainer for Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services to contribute to this Obama administration-driven initiative," said Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University, who has testified on the H-1B use before Congress.

"For very little cost it buys both companies ... positive public relations, but more importantly a perception by those inside and outside of government that they have a close working relationship with the White House," he said.

The Obama administration wants to expand computer science training in elementary and secondary schools. The administration estimates that only about a quarter of all K-12 schools provide computer science instruction.

Infosys Foundation USA, the company's philanthropic arm, is contributing $1 million for computer science professional development programs for teachers, and Tata is providing an unspecified number of grants to teachers in 27 U.S. cities. The effort was described in a White House fact sheet.

The White House is also getting help from Microsoft, Google and, among other tech firms. Congress will still need to fund $4 billion to pay for the program; the tech firms are contributing above and beyond that level.

Hira said it's "downright baffling" why the White House is partnering with Infosys and Tata.

"Whatever ethical judgment you make about their business model, it is clearly designed to undermine the objectives of the White House initiative," said Hira. "These firms employ a pure-play offshore outsourcing business, where their goal is to ship as many IT jobs offshore as possible," he said.

Tech industry trade groups run public relations campaigns that tout the benefits of raising the H-1B cap and deny, dismiss or minimize reports of U.S. worker displacements. Those most affected face risks in speaking out.

Severance agreements with non-disparagement clauses, along with fears of being blacklisted in a job hunt, make it hard to IT workers to tell their stories. Meanwhile, the tech industry's public relations effort continues, with handouts to lawmakers that say: "H-1B workers complement -- instead of displace -- U.S. workers."


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