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Clinton: It's 'heartbreaking' when IT workers must train H-1B replacements

Patrick Thibodeau | July 13, 2016
But critics say the presumptive Democratic nominee underplayed the extent of the problem, and offered no solution

Hira said that it is "good to hear" that Clinton "is aware of the Disney case and the abuse happening with visas. But her policy statement on immigration never mentions it, so this begs the question where she specifically stands on guestworker visa reforms."

Those reforms include requiring U.S. worker preference in hiring, raising wage levels so guestworkers aren't hired because they're cheaper than Americans, and preventing the displacement of Americans.

"So, is she supporting H-1B and L-1 and OPT (Optional Practical Training) reforms? Or isn't she?" said Hira, "Or is reform simply a chip to be bargained away to the tech industry in exchange for its support for comprehensive immigration reform -- a way to keep the 'pressure' on the technology industry to use her words?"

Hira called Clinton's remarks a positive first step, but also sees her delaying a commitment to a solution. It's a "way to pander without making a hard promise," he said.

A good first step

Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, said Clinton "rightly seemed concerned that H-1B workers can be vastly underpaid and are tied to their employers -- she said workers on visas are more 'compliant' because they want to stay in the country, and are therefore unlikely to complain when things go wrong or if they aren't paid fairly."

Costa said she "was explicit about 'how callous and insensitive American corporations have become to their American workers' because they are being used to replace skilled, incumbent U.S. workers by outsourcing companies after being forced to train their own replacements.

"We haven't seen many elected Democrats say these things and in such clear terms -- which I think makes it significant -- and might encourage others in her party to speak out about the flawed nature of guestworker programs and the abuses that occur," said Costa.

Costa said "it's really the first time" he has seen the former Secretary of State "offer a detailed opinion on immigration that was this balanced and focused on having an immigration system that is fair to, and seeks to protect, U.S. workers and the undocumented workers and guestworkers for whom enforcing labor rights is often impossible."

Some Republicans cited the Disney layoff in one of the presidential debates, and Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has outlined a specific H-1B visa reform proposal. It was drafted with the help of leading Senate visa critics, including U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the first Senator to endorse Trump for president.

Still needed: A solution

Republicans and Democrats have offered bipartisan bills over the years to reform the H-1B visa program and to make it harder to replace U.S. workers. But those efforts have been stymied by proponents of comprehensive immigration reform, who don't want to lose tech industry support for broader reform.


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