A top White House official told House lawmakers this week that the replacement of U.S. workers by H-1B visa holders is troubling and not supposed to happen. But it is hard to tell whether the administration will do anything about it. The signals are mixed.
Several federal agencies, at the request of lawmakers, are investigating complaints by IT workers at Southern California Edison, Disney Parks and Resorts and some other firms, that they had to train H-1B workers prior to their layoff.
This isn't a new development. IT workers have been training their foreign replacements for years, but something in the national landscape has changed. Offshore outsourcing is reaching deeper into the U.S. economy. Regulated utilities, which rely on U.S. rate payers for revenue, are shifting jobs to India and laying off IT workers. The offshoring of IT workers by Disney, the quintessential wholesome American icon, struck a nerve.
The use of foreign labor may also be reaching deeper into government IT, as demand for H-1B visas reaches new highs. The problems with the program are also gaining new attention, as IT workers increasingly share their stories of being forced to train their H-1B replacements.
This week, Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration, was asked at a House Judiciary Committee hearing about the use of H-1B visa holders to replace U.S. workers.
U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) cited the Disney layoffs at this hearing. He said that if H-1B workers are being used to replace U.S. workers, then "it's a very serious failing of the H-1B program."
Johnson's response was nuanced. He said H-1B workers "are not supposed to replace Americans," and "any such allegation is very troubling to me."
Johnson also agreed with U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who at the hearing asked whether it was correct that the H-1B program is only supposed to be used "when American workers are not otherwise available."
But Johnson also said that "I also believe Congress can help in this regard," said, "Congress can help through increased enforcement mechanisms for situations where an employer does in fact replace American workers with H-1B holders -- that is the recommendation that has been made to me and I support that."
Here is a plain English translation of Johnson's remarks: He is telling lawmakers that using foreign workers to replace U.S. workers is wrong. But he also telling them that it may be legal unless Congress changes the law.
Johnson isn't the first administration official to point out to Congress that it's the law, not the enforcement of the law, that's the problem.
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