H-1B Visa Architect: Program ‘Hijacked’ to ‘Displace Americans’
'60 Minutes' special highlights voices of U.S. workers replaced by foreigners
Former Rep. Bruce Morrison (D-Conn.) said the 1990 H-1B visa program he helped craft has been “hijacked” to routinely replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor. He made his comments during a special that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
CBS Evening News journalist Bill Whitaker explored the controversy surrounding the H-1B visa program, which allows American corporations to hire foreign workers. Morrison insisted the bill he helped create was intended to help companies fill scientific jobs with qualified candidates. He accused companies of shamelessly outsourcing thousands of jobs to younger, cheaper, and temporary foreign workers through a loophole that allows companies to hire the foreign workers for jobs paying over $60,000.
“I’m outraged. The H-1B has been hijacked as the main highway to bring people from abroad and displace Americans.”
“I’m outraged. The H-1B has been hijacked as the main highway to bring people from abroad and displace Americans,” Morrison told Whitaker. “It’s really a travesty that should never have been allowed to happen.”
Morrison noted these types of scientific jobs often earn American workers $120,000 to $140,000 per year. But because foreign workers will take those jobs for far less, American companies often choose outsourcing over valuing their American workers.
“This is not about skills. It is about costs,” Morrison said. “The workers being brought in don’t know anything more than the workers they are replacing. They know less, and that’s why they have to be retrained or trained by the American workers who are being laid off.”
Robert Harrison, a former senior telecom engineer at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center, had been called into a meeting in October 2016, along with 80 other employees, to learn their company was trading them for Indian workers. Harrison was told he could stay on the job for four months, receive his salary and even earn a bonus if he trained his foreign replacement.
“Now I’m being told that I am not only going to lose my job, but that I also need to train the people to take my place [at] my job,” Harrison said. “That exceeds angry. I’m really not a violent guy — I love people, but I’ve envisioned myself just back-handing the guy as he’s sitting next to me trying to learn what I know.”
When Whitaker asked Harrison if he felt like he had been “digging his own grave,” Harrison replied that “it feels worse than that.”
“I can’t wrap my mind around training somebody to take my position. You know — that’s my livelihood. How am I supposed to feel?” Harrison said. “It feels like not only am I digging the grave, but I’m going to be stabbing myself in the gut and fall into the grave.”
Harrison’s former coworker, Kurt Ho, also lost his job to outsourcing and was forced to train his replacement.
“I think for once, we need to stand up as Americans and say, ‘Enough is enough. We’re not going to take it any more,'” Ho said.
Both Ho and Harrison participated in a protest staged outside the UCSF Medical Center that was organized by Sarah Blackwell, a lawyer who has represented hundreds of American workers who lost their jobs to outsourcing.
“When you tell someone their real reason for getting rid of these jobs is for cheap, foreign labor, that should offend everyone,” Blackwell said. “And they are told by their company, ‘If you don’t train this person in a way that we approve of them being trained, then you don’t get your severance.'”
Whitaker interviewed an Indian-born foreign worker at a Wall Street bank whose asked to remain anonymous. The man noted he had “to take all of their knowledge” when he replaced American workers and essentially had “to steal it.”
“That’s my job description,” the man said. “The American workers lose their job[s], and they also cry while leaving the job … If I lose a job, I can go back to India. But where can they go? … The main villains are the Indian companies and their American corporate clients. They are exploiting us.”
Dr. Mukesh Aghi, president of the U.S.-India Business Council, told Whitaker the United States and India engage in a "two-way trade" by bringing Indian workers to the U.S. through the H-1B visa program. However, those who were displaced by the foreign workers often question the merits of that "two-way trade."
"Never in my life did I imagine until this happened at Disney, that I could be sitting at my desk and somebody would be flown in from another country, sit at my same desk and chair, and take over what I was doing," former Disney employee Leo Perrero said. "It was the most humiliating and demoralizing thing that I've ever gone through in my life."
Noting that "protecting American jobs" was "a signature theme of President Donald Trump's 'Make America Great Again' campaign," Whitaker said the H-1B issue "was getting little notice until it caught the attention of the Trump campaign."
"Attacking the H-1B visa program fit perfectly with Mr. Trump's message and tapped into America's simmering anger at the corporate and political status quo," Whitaker said.