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The “knowledge transfer sessions” started a few months after Jeff Tan received notice last summer that he and about 80 co-workers would be laid off by the University of California, San Francisco, at the end of February.
At daily two-hour meetings with employees from HCL Technologies, an Indian tech services company that had landed the outsourcing contract from UCSF, Tan trained HCL staff members in India by video conference and employees brought to the United States on H1B visas how to do his job.
More than any other industry, tech companies depend on the 85,000 foreign workers allowed into the United States annually under the H1B visa programme.
The H1B is a temporary visa intended to bring in foreign professionals with college degrees and specialised skills to fill jobs when qualified Americans cannot be found. Technology giants like Microsoft and Google have pressed for increases in the annual quotas, saying there are not enough Americans with the skills they need. But for tech workers like Tan, the programme has had very negative consequences.
“I thought the purpose of H1B visas was to give America a competitive edge, not help companies ship American jobs abroad,” said Tan, who had worked for the university as an information technology systems administrator for 20 years. “This is now standard practice in the technology industry.”
The debate over H1B visas has gained new urgency as employers prepare for President Trump to sign an executive order to overhaul the program. It is not clear what action Trump plans to take, but a draft of a proposed executive order on the matter was leaked last week.
It included a passage saying options for modifying the H1B programme would be considered to “ensure that beneficiaries of the programme are the best and the brightest.”
The H1B programme’s critics say the system provides a way for American companies to turn over technology departments to outsourcing companies. These are gaming the system to snap up the visas so they can replace American workers with less expensive, temporary staff members.
A research report by Goldman Sachs estimates that 900,000 to a million H1B visa holders now reside in the United States, and that they account for up to 13 per cent of American technology jobs. In 2014, 13 outsourcing firms accounted for one-third of all H1B visas. They use a loophole in the current first-come, first-served lottery system to flood the applicant pool with their candidates.
In many cases, those candidates are paid slightly more than the $60,000-a-year minimum salary required by the program for dependent companies seeking a waiver from having to recruit Americans first — but less than what American technology workers make.
Audrey Hatten-Milholin, 54, was notified in July that she would be laid off from the University of California, San Francisco, at the end of February after 17 years in its technology department.
Along with eight others, she filed a complaint in November with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, charging that replacing her and others with “significantly younger, male” workers “who will then perform the work overseas” was discriminatory. “We are at a disadvantage as Americans,” Hatten-Milholin said.
©2017 The New York Times News Service