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Use of Migrant Workers for Outsourcing IT Jobs Draws Criticism

write-593333_640-300x177A California utility company is coming under fire for cutting a small percentage of its IT jobs and outsourcing them to India. Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) latest move puts the utility in the center of a complicated debate on immigration, outsourcing, and the H-1B, a visa program designed for high-skilled immigrants.

PG&E’s reason for outsourcing some of its IT jobs to India is simple: it’s cheaper. According to spokesperson Brian Hertzog, PG&E is outsourcing 70 jobs described as “routine IT work” that’s set to be phased out eventually.

“Generally, this represents an opportunity for cost savings. They’re able to do the work more affordably than we would be able to do it in-house,” Hertzog said.

PG&E’s in-house employees are currently training their replacements: migrant workers from Indian-based contractor Tata Consultancy, some of whom are in the country as H-1B visa holders. The migrant workers come in, undergo training, and teach what they’ve learned to another IT team in India.

PG&E is hardly the first company to use this kind of offshore setup. Disney, Toys R’ Us, utility companies like Southern California Edison, and even universities have outsourced jobs in a similar manner for years. According to Paul Almeida of the union federation AFL-CIO, while this practice has been around for a long time, it has never been as blatant as it is today, so much so that it’s now part of the business model of many companies.

Almeida adds that the H1-B visa has unfortunately turned into a critical part of this offshore model, where international contractors like Tata Consultancy petition for thousands of H-1B visas, originally designed for high-skilled workers not found in the United States, instead of people doing regular IT work. Almeida notes that contractors like Tata are taking advantage of the system, undercutting U.S employees in the process.

Situations like this are a huge part of why Congress has tried and failed to reform the H-1B visa program. It’s a polarizing issue, with one side made up of labor advocates like Almeida and the other composed of tech firms, like Facebook and Google, who say they rely on highly-skilled migrant workers.

It’s worth noting that the federal government has placed a cap on the number of H-1B visas issued each year, which are awarded to applicants through a lottery system. This sometimes results in foreign graduate students from top universities, like M.I.T. and the University of California, Berkley, not getting visas even if they deserve them.

Congress is waiting on three H-1B visa reform bills, which have a mix of provisions that are friendlier to the IT and tech industry, and those that are beneficial to labor advocates.

Several companies based in Texas also use the H-1B program to reach out to skilled foreign talent, and the bills could very well affect their hiring practices and dash the dreams of workers hoping to enter the U.S. on an employment basis. If you or a loved one is one of these affected people, talk to immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today to schedule a consultation.