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Saturday, March 23 , 2019, 6:00 am | Fair 49º


Joe Guzzardi: Fearing H-1B Tightening, Tech Giants Ramp Up Lobbying

Since Congress created the H-1B program in 1990, IT services companies have had things go mostly their way. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services statistics show that the federal government has issued about 1.8 million visas through 2017 to overseas workers who displace or block employment opportunities to experienced, skilled Americans.

H-1B visas are valid for three years, are routinely renewed for an additional three years and routinely lead to citizenship.

But President Donald Trump has ordered tighter H-1B qualifying standards, which have put a big-league scare into tech giants Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro.

In February, USCIS announced that it will require “detailed statements of work or work orders” about the job that would be performed by an H-1B visa holder when employed at a third-party site. Employers will need to file more details, known as requests for evidence (RFE), to confirm why a foreign-born applicant should be given preference over American applicants.

Previously, adjudicating immigration officers didn’t have to review third-party contracts, dates or location of precisely where the H-1B visa holder would be employed.

In anticipation of the April 2 H-1B filing date for fiscal 2019, immigration lawyers have criticized USCIS for overly stringent demands, and India’s largest IT service companies have increased their lobbying budgets.

A Center for Responsive Politics review showed that Tata increased its lobbying expenses 37 percent to $110,000; Infosys, up by a multiple of four to $200,000; and Wipro, up by 5½ times to $130,000. Indian workers receive 70 percent of the total H-1B visas issued every year — 65,000 go to overseas applicants, and 20,000 are reserved for foreign nationals studying in the United States who earn an advanced degree.

The agency defends its more rigorous standards. USCIS noted that it has found “significant employer violations” among H-1B employers that include paying less than the required wage, not paying workers the required wage while they wait for project assignments, and having employees perform nonspecialty occupation jobs.

In short, IT specialists hire many, but pay little.

Employers cannot point to tangible evidence that they truly need overseas workers. In fact, high-ranking industry officials admit that qualified Americans are readily available.

Industry representatives routinely claim that because of a qualified personnel shortage, about 500,000 jobs cannot be filled. But in a moment of rare candor in 2016, then-Infosys chief executive Vishal Sikka admitted that if new regulations slowed the flow of Indian cheap labor techs to the United States, the employers’ solution would be to hire “locally,” meaning American.

“There are enough universities, enough ability to hire, enough ability to teach,” he said.

At the same time that Sikka confirmed what H-1B critics had been insisting for decades — that no shortage of qualified U.S. tech workers existed — the Business Insider reported that HP cut 55,000 jobs between 2012 and 2016; yet, the company filed more than 2,000 labor condition applicationsfor H-1B visas.

And CNBC reported in “Silicon Valley: Much young talent, many fewer jobs,” that at San Francisco’s annual Internapalooza, more than 5,000 college-age students showed up hoping to get a chance at a Silicon Valley job, evidence that an abundant supply of young talent is available.

Understanding why employers love the H-1B visa is easy — it expands the applicant pool which, in turn, allows them to pay less in salaries.

— Joe Guzzardi is an analyst and researcher with Progressives for Immigration Reform who now lives in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter: @joeguzzardi19. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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