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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.

The IEEE-USA, the largest engineering association in the U.S., is running a petition drive urging the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation into the H-1B program.

The tech industry says there is a skills shortage and it wants more H-1B visa holders to meet the need.

"This makes me angry," said Sara Blackwell, a Florida attorney representing some laid-off Disney IT workers, said of the involvement of the IT services firms with the White House initiative.

"Thousands of tech American workers are being fired and replaced" by firms "that are offering money to help educate Americans," said Blackwell.

"This puts out the message that Americans are not educated enough to do these IT jobs, which is wholly incorrect and offensive," said Blackwell.

The Disney employees Blackwell is representing have filed lawsuits against Disney and two IT services firms, Cognizant and HCL, which are not involved in the White House program.

The idea that there is a skills shortage is sharply disputed among independent researchers, but especially among U.S. IT workers displaced by foreign workers on temporary work visas.

Both Tata and Infosys are facing discrimination lawsuits from U.S., workers. Both firms have called the lawsuits groundless.

Infosys, in 2013, paid $34 million to the U.S. to settle allegations of visa abuse. The settlement, signed by both parties, included no admission of wrongdoing and imposed no limits on the firm's federal contracting. In the settlement, Infosys denied the claims, calling them untrue and unproven.

Last June U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) announced that the U.S. Department of Labor had opened an investigation into Infosys and Tata following the layoffs at Southern California Edison to determine whether there was any violation of the law.

In a joint statement, the two senators wrote: "A number of U.S. employers, including some large, well-known, publicly-traded corporations, have laid off thousands of American workers and replaced them with H-1B visa holders. To add insult to injury, many of the replaced American employees report that they have been forced to train the foreign workers who are taking their jobs. That's just plain wrong and we'll continue to press the Administration to help solve this problem."

In September, Infosys said the Department of Labor had concluded its investigation and found no violations.

If IT services firms "are off the hook, then it's open season to replace any and every American white-collar worker," said Hira. "That's not only disappointing, it is self-defeating since the best ambassadors to any profession are the workers who are already in it."

After reading this announcement, IT workers are "right to feel like the current government is working to undermine their careers," said Hira. "Any rational IT worker would tell young people to stay away from the IT profession," he said.


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