- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

U.S. high-tech companies are flooding the labor market with foreign workers who are willing to work more cheaply than Americans, according to a report released yesterday by the Federation of American Immigration Reform.

The report says the industry is importing overseas workers as it lays off U.S. personnel and sidesteps American computer programmers, electronics engineers, mathematicians and other professionals who are already out of work.

“Cheap labor has become the holy grail of many in American industry, and access to foreign workers is viewed as an inalienable right,” FAIR Executive Director Dan Stein said.

FAIR is a 70,000-member group that seeks reform of immigration policies to conform with present-day demographics, environmental security and real labor conditions.

Its new report, “Deleting American Workers: Abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker System in the High Tech Industry,” targets two U.S. immigration programs, widely used by high-tech firms, that FAIR says are unnecessary and have proved harmful to American white-collar employees in the tight job market.

The programs were designed to help employers find temporary foreign workers for jobs that were going unfilled in this country. But FAIR says times have changed and Americans are available for those jobs.

It also says foreign replacements are working for as much as 30 percent less than the prevailing wages for the jobs they are performing. That finding has been documented in several reports by independent researchers.

Mr. Stein said high-tech companies have been talking about a labor shortage for 15 years yet “unemployment is 6 percent among high-tech workers.” Their jobless rate was below 5 percent a year ago, the FAIR report says.

Electrical and electronics engineers lost 241,000 jobs in the past two years and computer scientists lost 175,000 jobs, the report states.

“There’s a difference between a labor shortage and using immigrants to hold down the wages for everyone in the industry,” Mr. Stein said.

“There are well-trained workers mowing lawns,” he said, but many can’t get interviews at high-tech firms because they prefer to hire foreigners.

Mr. Stein predicts Americans “will be railroaded out of jobs,” as long as high-tech companies are able to get foreigners.

At issue are workers being brought into the U.S. labor pool through the so-called L-1 and H-1B visa programs. L-1 visas, which allow multinational firms to transfer overseas workers to their U.S. facilities, have nearly doubled since 1995.

Mr. Stein asserts that companies are now setting up shops of foreign workers with visas whom they are renting out to other U.S. employers.

L-1 visas are renewable for five years and H-1B visas for six years. The latter program, designed to find foreigners for jobs Americans can’t fill, requires that companies pay such foreign workers the prevailing wage for their jobs.

FAIR says some high-tech firms are skirting the law and paying their H-1B employees small salaries. Numerous studies have shown that many H-1B workers are underpaid.

High-tech firms concede they are eager to hire people with H-1B visas. “The employer is getting more productivity and cheaper labor,” Fadi Bishara, president of techVenture , an executive-search firm in Silicon Valley, told Wired News, an online news service.

“Because many H-1B applicants are willing to do whatever it takes to get into the country, they will work day and night, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes. They’re willing to compromise some of their salaries. They’re a special breed,” Mr. Bishara added.

When Congress first approved the program in 1990, it set a ceiling of 65,000 H-1B visas annually. But in 2000 the high-tech industry persuaded lawmakers to bump the annual ceiling to 195,000. It will return to the 1990 figure beginning Oct. 1.

But FAIR says that’s still too many to help U.S. workers. It points out that certain nonprofit and educational institutions are exempt from the cap.

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