Chamber Panicked Trump Could Reform H-1B Visas

Foreign-worker program that undercuts skilled American workers likely headed for major transformation

The H-1B worker visa program could finally get an overdue revamp.

The H-1B visa program, which ushers foreign workers into U.S.-based jobs (mainly technology work), has been mentioned by President-Elect Donald Trump on the campaign trail.

“[The USCC] is too vested in the idea. It’s past time to scrub the whole thing and start over.”

And now that Trump approaches the White House, those who support the unfettered growth of the program are having panic attacks. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC) is a leading supporter of the program, and thinks the annual number of foreign workers brought in is too low.

Some of the USCC’s top backers, not surprisingly, also think this too. Among the mega-backers of expanding the H-1B visa quota is Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

The USCC, and Indian companies who benefit from the outsourcing, may be meeting soon to reach a consensus strategy in the wake of Trump’s win. Chamber of Commerce officials did not return a message seeking comment about what they are planning to do, after LifeZette received a tip about a possible meeting in Washington, D.C.

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Critics of the program say the powerful USCC, the foremost national business lobby, needs to reconsider its support for the H-1B program, which was kicked off in 1990. The program is supposed to supplement and aid U.S. tech workers — not replace them. Instead, critics charge the program is being used to cut wages in the industry by replacing skilled U.S. workers with cheap foreign replacements.

“[The USCC] is too vested in the idea,” said Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a watchdog agency that opposes the visa program. “It’s past time to scrub the whole thing and start over.”

Stein said it’s likely too late to salvage the program, which was founded in 1990. Trump himself sometimes appeared on stage with perhaps the most famous American victims of the program, former Walt Disney Co. employees who had to train their Indian replacements on the way out the door.

In March 2015, The New York Times wrote about the October 2014 layoffs of 250 Disney employees, many in Florida. Trump’s campaign used the issue to get a leg up on his rival, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

“Many of their jobs were transferred to immigrants on temporary visas for highly skilled technical workers, who were brought in by an outsourcing firm based in India,” The Times wrote. “Over the next three months, some Disney employees were required to train their replacements to do the jobs they had lost.”

The move was a PR disaster for both Disney and the H-1B program. There was no apparent need to replace the workers. Worker-visa critics charged Disney used the swap to cut wages and replace older Florida workers with Indian workers. And technically, the program cannot be used to replace U.S. workers.

Congress reacted. Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, tried to pass House Bill 5801. The bill would tighten restrictions on the worker program. It’s currently delayed in Congress, but Issa’s office told LifeZette on Thursday that the congressman hopes to get it passed soon.

But first the bill and other restrictions will have to get past perhaps the largest and most powerful army of lobbyists in Washington. Not only does the Chamber of Commerce want more H-1B visas — Facebook, Google, and Microsoft want more too.

Right now, only 85,000 H-1B visas are issued annually. The USCC makes the counterintuitive claim on its website that the annual quota of 85,000 foreign tech workers a year causes more job losses, as many as 500,000 lost jobs a year.

But Disney workers did not feel that way. One worker told The Times that he was not going to get his bonus unless the “highly skilled” worker from India was fully trained in his new job within so many days. Two former Disney IT workers, Dena Moore and Leo Perrero, later appeared at a Trump rally in Alabama, according to Variety magazine. They later sued Disney.

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Disney’s problems didn’t end there. In March, Perrero testified before a Senate subcommittee, chaired by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. Perrero told lawmakers that a Disney official told them, in frank language, that they had to comply with training the new workers or they would not get severance.

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Perrero told Congress that many displaced tech workers do not want to speak out, for fear of being blacklisted in the powerful industry.

John Miano, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the H-1B visa program is in fact a mess designed to be complex and therefore hard for the government to monitor.

But what really bothers Miano is the lack of data on H-1B visas. That makes it hard to analyze the program, he said.

“It’s a greater secret than what goes on in Area 51,” said Miano.

meet the author

Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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