IT Workers Are Challenging The Replacement Of U.S. Employees With Foreign Visa Holders

| by Kathryn Schroeder

IT workers are fighting back against a U.S. company who is allegedly replacing them with foreign visa holders.

While some workers, like the 200 who were laid off from Eversource Energy after some had to train their foreign replacements from India or lose their severance, are given clauses in their severance package that prohibit them from making statements that may “disparage or discredit the Company” or anyone employed therein, one enormous U.S.-based company did not include a non-disparagement clause when it replaced American workers with immigrants, Computerworld reported.

Many Eversource Energy employees are afraid of speaking out about their experience because they fear being sued by the company.

Employees of the Walt Disney Co. did not have a clause included in their severance package, and some have taken action.

Two former Disney IT employees filed federal lawsuits on Jan. 25, alleging the company is replacing American workers with lower-paid immigrants living in the U.S. on H-1B visas.

Attorney Sara Blackwell wants class-action status in the cases representing Leo Perrero and Dena Moore, who were both laid off in 2015 from Walt Disney World in Florida.

“I don’t have to be angry or cause drama,” 53-year-old Moore, who had worked at Disney for 10 years, told The New York Times. “But they are just doing things to save a buck, and it’s making Americans poor.”

HCL Inc. and Cognizant Technologies are also named as defendants in the lawsuits. The outsourcing companies are accused of violating federal law by promising in the visa applications to protect American jobs, according to International Business Times. They were used by Disney to fill the vacancies of 250 laid-off tech workers in 2014 with foreign workers, mostly from India.

At least 30 former Disney employees have filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, citing discrimination.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an H-1B visa is “to help employers who cannot otherwise obtain needed business skills and abilities from the U.S. workforce by authorizing the temporary employment of qualified individuals who are not otherwise authorized to work in the United States.”

H-1B visa recipients are supposed to receive the same wage as their domestic counterparts.

“Employers must attest to the Department of Labor that they will pay wages to the H-1B nonimmigrant workers that are at least equal to the actual wage paid by the employer to other workers with similar experience and qualifications for the job in question, or the prevailing wage for the occupation in the area of intended employment — whichever is greater,” the U.S. Department of Labor states on their website.

If Disney is hiring foreign workers with H-1B visas in order to pay lower wages than a U.S. citizen would require with the same experience, they may be violating the law.

“These lawsuits are based on an unsustainable legal theory and are a wholesale misrepresentation of the facts,” Disney said in a statement obtained by The New York Times, adding that more than 100 of the workers who were laid off have since been rehired.

Cognizant said in a statement it “fully complies with all U.S. regulations regarding H-1B visas,” according to The New York Times. HCL also said it complies carefully with U.S. laws.

Perrero told Computerworld that without non-disparagement agreements, “you would have a lot more people speaking out — real human beings with real stories, not just anonymous persons speaking out.”

“Their freedom of speech is being taken away from them with the non-disparagement agreements,” he said.

The H-1B visa program is a hotly debated topic with legislators.

In December 2015, a bill was introduced by Republican Senators Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas that would reform the H-1B visa program, reported Computerword. It would require the minimum wage for H-1B workers to be $110,000 a year, in order to discourage outsourcing companies from using the workers to lower wages, according to The New York Times. It would also prohibit non-disparagement agreements.

Around the same time, the Obama Administration announced it would help some H-1B visa holders to remain in the country without having to be tied to their employers. Critics of the new rule have called it abusive of U.S. immigration laws, International Business Times reported.

Another piece of legislation has been floating around since early 2015 that would change the program in favor of foreign workers. The I-Squared Act would raise the 65,000 H-1B yearly visa cap to as high as 195,000, allowing for more foreigners to legally work for American companies, according to Computerworld. 

“I wholeheartedly believe our country needs to have amazing people come here to build a long-term foundation,” Perrero told The New York Times. But he also thinks the H-1B program has been abused.

Sources: Computerworld, The New York Times, International Business Times, U.S. Department of Labor / Photo credit: Buwaneka Saranga/Flickr

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