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Labor Department says it can't investigate So Cal Edison's H-1B use

Patrick Thibodeau | April 27, 2015
A request by 10 U.S. senators to investigate H-1B visa use at Southern California Edison (SCE) and other companies is meeting resistance at the U.S. Department of Labor.

A request by 10 U.S. senators to investigate H-1B visa use at Southern California Edison (SCE) and other companies is meeting resistance at the U.S. Department of Labor.

The DOL is telling lawmakers that it can't initiate an investigation in the absence of a complaint by an employee. The department also seems to be suggesting, in a letter to lawmakers, that an investigation may be fruitless because it is legal to replace U.S. workers with H-1B workers.

The DOL "lacks a basis to initiate an investigation," wrote M. Patricia Smith, the solicitor of labor for the department, in a letter to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the 10 senators who requested an investigation of SCE and reports of other displacements of U.S. workers as well. The department's Wage and Hour Division "has not received a complaint from an aggrieved party or a credible source," she wrote.

Some affected SCE workers told Computerworld that they had to train their replacements, who they said were on temporary visas. The Senate's Judiciary Committee held a hearing on IT worker displacements and independently received written statements from SCE workers, who described similar fates.

One worker, who was kept anonymous by the committee, wrote of training an H-1B replacement, and noted: "It's a farce teaching our kids STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] when the government is permitting U.S. companies to abuse the H-1B visa program, which allows foreigners to take these future jobs from them."

In a joint statement in response to the DOL's letter, Durbin, and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who is also chairman of the immigration subcommittee, wrote: "We will continue pressing the Administration to use its legal authority to stop the displacement of American workers wherever possible and to conduct a thorough investigation of responsible parties."

The DOL letter points out that even H-1B-dependent employers (which includes most IT services firms) with more than 15% of their workforce on temporary visas, "are not prohibited from displacing U.S. workers if they pay the H-1B workers at least $60,000 per year or the workers have a relevant master's degree."

The prevailing entry-level wage for software developers in Los Angeles is $70,000, according to government data.

Durbin and Sessions, in their statement, took note of the DOL's arguments, and wrote: "This response confirms that companies can often hire H-1B guest workers to replace American workers without fear of reprisal and that Congress must act to strengthen protections for U.S. workers and to make explicit that companies cannot engage in these practices. The law must be written to clearly prohibit replacing American workers with H-1B visa workers."

The lawmakers may be suggesting that the DOL's letter still gives them something they can use in a fight over the I-Square bill, which will increase the base H-1B cap from 65,000 to 195,000.

 

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