H1-B Workers Hit by Silicon Valley Job Cuts

Silicon Valley is hurting. Intel, Microsoft, and other high technology giants are announcing tens of thousands of layoffs. Unemployment in Silicon valley hit a new high of 7.8% in January, 2009. Many of the high-tech companies rely on foreign-born technologists, particular those from India, China, Israel, Pakistan, Philippines, and other nations. Thousands of these workers are facing the ax, with the H1-B workers particularly fearing the worst.

When times were good, the high-tech companies lobbied for and got over 100,000 yearly H1-B visas approved by U.S. Congress. The largest number of workers who were hired with the H1-B visas were of Indian origin. Some of them suffered abuse at the hands of their employers and the intermediaries who helped place them. "H1-B slavery" was the term used to describe their situation.

Things have changed dramatically in the last few months. And they are going to get much worse in 2009. In a letter addressed to Microsoft, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley has asked the company to layoff foreign workers before laying off skilled American workers.

Today's San Jose Mercury News has highlighted the plight of two Indian engineers on H1-B visas who recently lost their jobs. For them, it's a race against time. They need to quickly find other jobs at a time when companies everywhere are cutting back. Both Jay and Prasad (fictitious names) have advanced degrees earned from elite American universities. And both are facing the inflexible rules of their H-1B work visas.

Technically, as soon as they lost their jobs, they were required to leave the country. In reality, they can probably stick around for a week or two, but not much longer.

There are no statistics available yet on how many of the job cuts have already hit or soon expected to hit H1-B workers. But San Jose Mercury is reporting that this "stark dilemma is being repeated with increasing frequency across Silicon Valley, according to immigration specialists, as companies downsize to weather a punishing downturn. It's a small number compared with the layoffs of H-1B visa holders during the dot-com crash. But the downturn has sent a wave of concern through the community of immigrant workers who hold the visa, which companies use to hire skilled noncitizens."

Dot com bust in 2000-2001 followed by post-911 economic slow-down were hard on H1B visa holders. The running joke at the time was that B2B stood for Back-to-Bangalore, not business-to-business. But, somehow, the smart techies survived and then thrived. Short term, things are going to be particularly tough again. But, eventually, there will be a rebound and the highly-educated and smart people like Jay and Prasad are going to do very well. Their hard work and persistence will pay off. My message to Prasad and Jay is: Hang in there , Guys! Don't give up hope! Things will get better.

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
Thousands of Indian illegal immigrants are slipping into Texas from Mexico, according to LA Times:

Reporting from Harlingen, Texas — Thousands of immigrants from India have crossed into the United States illegally at the southern tip of Texas in the last year, part of a mysterious and rapidly growing human-smuggling pipeline that is backing up court dockets, filling detention centers and triggering investigations.

The immigrants, mostly young men from poor villages, say they are fleeing religious and political persecution. More than 1,600 Indians have been caught since the influx began here early last year, while an undetermined number, perhaps thousands, are believed to have sneaked through undetected, according to U.S. border authorities.

Hundreds have been released on their own recognizance or after posting bond. They catch buses or go to local Indian-run motels before flying north for the final leg of their months-long journeys.

"It was long … dangerous, very dangerous," said one young man wearing a turban outside the bus station in the Rio Grande Valley town of Harlingen.

The Indian migration in some ways mirrors the journeys of previous waves of immigrants from far-flung places, such as China and Brazil, who have illegally crossed the U.S. border here. But the suddenness and still-undetermined cause of the Indian migration baffles many border authorities and judges.

The trend has caught the attention of anti-terrorism officials because of the pipeline's efficiency in delivering to America's doorstep large numbers of people from a troubled region. Authorities interview the immigrants, most of whom arrive with no documents, to ensure that people from neighboring Pakistan or Middle Eastern countries are not slipping through.

There is no evidence that terrorists are using the smuggling pipeline, FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials said.

The influx shows signs of accelerating: About 650 Indians were arrested in southern Texas in the last three months of 2010 alone. Indians are now the largest group of immigrants other than Latin Americans being caught at the Southwest border.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's an NPR report on the abuse of H1b visas:

If you scroll through the government's visa data, you notice something surprising. The biggest employer of foreign tech workers is not Microsoft — not by a long shot. Nor is it Google, Facebook or any other name-brand tech company. The biggest users of H-1Bs are consulting companies, or as Ron Hira calls them, "offshore-outsourcing firms."

"The top 10 recipients in [the] last fiscal year were all offshore-outsourcers. And they got 40,000 of the 85,000 visas — which is astonishing," he says.

Hira's a professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He's also the son of Indian immigrants and has a personal interest in questions of labor flow across borders.

For the past decade, he's been studying how consulting firms use temporary work visas to help American companies cut costs. He says they use the visas to supply cheaper workers here, but also to smooth the transfer of American jobs to information-technology centers overseas.

"What these firms have done is exploit the loopholes in the H-1B program to bring in on-site workers to learn the jobs [of] the Americans to then ship it back offshore," he says. "And also to bring in on-site workers who are cheaper on the H-1B and undercut American workers right here."

The biggest user of H-1B last year was Cognizant, a firm based in New Jersey. The company got 9,000 new visas. Following close behind were Infosys, Wipro and Tata ‑‑ all Indian firms. They're not household names, but they loom large in tech places like the Seattle suburbs.

Cutting Costs

Rennie Sawade, a software designer with 30 years of experience, grew up in Michigan — watching the decline of the auto industry. And so, he went into computers in search of a more secure career. But that's not how it turned out.

"Basically, what I see is, it's happening all over again," Sawade says.

Programmers like him tend to be freelancers, or contract workers, and the big consulting firms are the competition. Sawade remembers when he almost landed a plum job at Microsoft.

"I remember having phone interviews and talking with the manager, having him sound really excited about my experience and he was going to bring me in to meet the team," Sawade recalls.

And then: nothing. He called his own placement agency to find out what happened.

"And that's when they told me, 'Oh, they hired somebody from Tata Consultancy.' And they actually told me on the phone, the woman I was talking to said her jaw just dropped when they found out how little Microsoft was paying this person from Tata Consultancy to do this job," he says.


http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/04/03/176134694/Whos-Hiring-H1-B-Visa-Workers-Its-Not-Who-You-Might-Think
Riaz Haq said…
Toys ‘R’ Us Brings Temporary H1B Workers From #India to U.S. to Move Jobs Overseas. . #outsourcing http://nyti.ms/1PNxnyi

When Congress designed temporary work visa programs, the idea was to bring in foreigners with specialized, hard-to-find skills who would help American companies grow, creating jobs to expand the economy. Now, though, some companies are bringing in workers on those visas to help move jobs out of the country.

For four weeks this spring, a young woman from India on a temporary visa sat elbow to elbow with an American accountant in a snug cubicle at the headquarters of Toys “R” Us here. The woman, an employee of a giant outsourcing company in India hired by Toys “R” Us, studied and recorded the accountant’s every keystroke, taking screen shots of her computer and detailed notes on how she issued payments for toys sold in the company’s megastores.

“She just pulled up a chair in front of my computer,” said the accountant, 49, who had worked for the company for more than 15 years. “She shadowed me everywhere, even to the ladies’ room.”

Continue reading the main story
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By late June, eight workers from the outsourcing company, Tata Consultancy Services, or TCS, had produced intricate manuals for the jobs of 67 people, mainly in accounting. They then returned to India to train TCS workers to take over and perform those jobs there. The Toys “R” Us employees in New Jersey, many of whom had been at the company more than a decade, were laid off.

A temporary visa program known as H-1B allows American employers to hire foreign professionals with college degrees and “highly specialized knowledge,” mainly in science and technology, to meet their needs for particular skills. Employers, according to the federal guidelines, must sign a declaration that the foreign workers “will not adversely affect the working conditions” of Americans or lower their wages.

In recent years, however, global outsourcing and consulting firms have obtained thousands of temporary visas to bring in foreign workers who have taken over jobs that had been held by American workers. The Labor Department has opened an investigation of possible visa violations by contractors at the Walt Disney Company and at Southern California Edison, where immigrants replaced Americans in jobs they were doing in this country. Four former workers at Disney have filed discrimination complaints against the company. The companies say they have complied with all applicable laws.

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