The Senate’s unanswered questions about H-1B replacements

The story of Southern California Edison's use of foreign contract workers is not over. There's more to go, despite what Infosys is saying this week.

Edison hired India-based Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services to run parts of its operations. This work began last year. IT workers say the contractors brought in H-1B workers, who they had to train to get severance payments. (Computerworld was the first to report what was going on at Edison. )

This replacement of workers at Southern California Edison drew the ire of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Sessions, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and eight other senators asked for an investigation.

Infosys Tuesday said the U.S. Department of Labor concluded its investigation and found no violations. But Infosys, a major user of H-1B visa workers, is referring only to its compliance with the rules.

There never were allegations that Infosys and other IT contractors weren't following the visa program rules. Although the senators wanted Labor to review the documentation, they asked a broader question as well: Is the replacement of U.S. workers by foreign workers a form of discrimination The Department of Justice is still examining that question.

The Senate letter broadly attacked the replacement of U.S. workers by foreign workers. It's an "abuse," "troubling," and "unacceptable," they wrote. But if the contractors are doing nothing wrong at Edison, there's no one to point a finger at. It means either the law is at fault or the administration's interpretation of the law is amiss.

The Edison case "lays bare the deep flaws of the H-1B program," said Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University, who recently testified before the Judiciary Committee about the visa program.

"It completely discredits the technology industry" and claims by other groups "that the program has ample protections for American workers," said Hira. "This very large case proves that the H-1B program is being used for cheaper labor to replace American workers. Infosys is the leading H-1B employer over the past 10 years," he said.

The senators have not received a report from any federal agency in response to their letter. The Labor Department hasn't completed its review of all the contractors that worked at Edison, and a spokesman said the investigation was officially still "open" although this could rapidly change.


Patrick Thibodeau

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