Tuesday, December 10, 2013

H-1B program IT workers has sometimes destroyed jobs for US citizens (so they say); should severance have strings attached?

There has been a lot of attention recently to the H-1B Visa Program, and Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to increase visas for foreign workers with specialized technical skills.
But the book “Who Stole the American Dream?” by Hedrick Smith (2012) argues that H-1B workers are indeed taking away IT jobs from Americans, even though legally they are not supposed to be paid less.

I found it common throughout the 1980s and 1990s to work with mainframe programmers from India and Pakistan.  It was an everyday thing, and some workers were very skilled.  No one ever mentioned religious issues pre-9/11.  
On p. 293, Smith describes an incident in 1994 at AIG (the insurance company that tanked in the 2008 financial crisis due to insuring so many credit default swaps) where associates were called in, told they would be laid off in 60 days, and they would have to train H-1B replacements to earn severance.
In the later part of the 1990s, Y2K work was often outsourced to India, or given to H-1B hires, but there was so much work in 1998-1999 that generally people did not believe that regular mainframe jobs could be affected.

The AIG thing tocuhed an odd coincidence. Last night, I had dinner at Kammerbooks on Dupont Circle in Washington.  I used to eat there a lot when I worked for "The Consolidated Consulting Group" which would later merge with Lewin, to become one of the top health care policy consulting firms (by running simulations and reports of policy choices) in the area. Dinner there brought back memories. I happened to sit next do a young man who, at the briefest glance, appeared to be coding java on a laptop (no, I didn't hack); when a girl friend showed up, she started talking about her job offer or internship or something at AIG -- just before I found the story about AIG in the book. What a coincidence, or providence.  The young couple talked loud enough for me to hear everything, and they never mentioned the 2008 crisis.  It was if they were oblivious to recent history.  
To return to the year of Y2K: I was working at ReliaStar in Minneapolis in 1999, we got several hires or consultants (including one project manager) who had been let go from Prudential in Plymouth, MN on Feb. 4, 1999.  People described coming to work that morning and finding themselves locked out of their logons, and they weren’t told what was happening until late morning.
During the wave of layoff at ING-Reliastar, not related to visas, at the end of 2001, some associates were kept until Feb. 15 and told they had to meet certain goals to get severance, but others (including myself) were suddenly cut loose, although with full severance (and health insurance during the severance period, which was pretty generous) suddenly in mid December.  My own logon failed while I was on the phone talking to an internal customer about a problem. 
There is another question here, does severance come with strings?  Usually the employee signs an agreement giving up the right to sue (and often paperwork is shuffled to prove illegal discrimination, especially by age, did not occur, by breaking employees into small groups).  In a few gases employees have to sign non-compete agreements, not to work for a competitor, but I did not encounter that.  If it happens, it is troublesome (and sometimes it is enforced).  I would wonder if non-disparagement clauses (regarding internet and social media postings) could happen in the future.  Again, I haven't seen that.  Of course, confidentiality agreements have to be honored, but usually employees have to surrender all materials and have no further access.  

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