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Invasion of the Body-Shoppers

Special visa allows firms to fill jobs with foreigners for less

By John Lasker · December 22nd, 2010 · News
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In the age of the Great Recession, if you tell any well-educated and out-of-work professional from Greater Cincinnati that thousands of non-citizen foreigners with advanced skills are employed locally and making bank, they just might flip their lid.

And if you take into consideration that one of the globe’s largest outsourcing firms bringing these non-citizen guest workers to the United States has a major office in Milford, any unemployed Cincinnatian probably should hold onto to the top of their skull.

The visa bringing these foreigners to Cincinnati and across America is the H-1b, which allows American corporations to hire foreigners with advanced skills — mainly IT professionals, engineers and professors — to come work in the U.S. for six years.

Quietly, the H-1b been around for over two decades but is now gaining a notorious reputation because many labor and IT unions claim the H-1b has displaced American workers, depressed wages and exploited the foreigners who use an H-1b.

The crux of the problem, critics say, is that U.S. corporations are blatantly ignoring federal law requiring them to only hire an H-1b if there is a serious shortage of Americans with the same qualifications.

Also, critics allege American corporations utilize the H-1b to keep wages low; studies have shown that most H-1bs working in the IT sector are initially offered a wage that is thousands of dollars less than the prevailing wage for entry-level IT pros who are U.S. citizens.

Proponents of the H-1b, such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who has called for an “infinite” number of H-1bs to enter the U.S., alleging that for every H-1b that eventually becomes a citizen, five future jobs will be created for Americans.

At any given time, an estimated 600,000 H-1b foreigners are working in this nation. Yet nearly every U.S. corporation that uses H-1bs — such as Microsoft and IBM — refuses to say exactly how many they’ve hired.

Numbers culled by CityBeat from MyVisaJobs.com, the Department of Homeland Security and other immigration-related Web sites, suggest the the estimated number of H-1bs working in Greater Cincinnati is between 3,000 and 5,000, with a salary most likely between $50,000 and $100,000. Some of the biggest users of the H-1b locally are The University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“Yes, I have heard several people say that (they were displaced by an H-1b holder), especially the older guys in the field,” says Troy Davis, head of Cincinnati’s Programmers Guild. “The most angry are the ones who have been displaced by an H-1b and then trained the foreigner — the H-lb holder — to do their job.”

But whether the H-1b is hurting or helping Greater Cincinnati “is a very complicated question,” Davis adds.

Critics of the H-1b say one of their favorite targets has a major corporate office in Milford — Tata Consultancy Services, which is widely known as Tata.

With its parent company based in India, Tata describes itself as a worldwide leader in “infrastructure support, help desk and other outsourcing services.”

WashTech, a Seattle-based IT union that’s hardcore anti-H-1b, claims Tata is an H-1b “body shopper” because it has an established track record of not hiring U.S. citizens. Instead, Tata brings their fellow Indian citizens to American using the H-1b , where they’re sourced to companies such as Citigroup.

According to MyVisa.com, Tata in Milford ranks 20th out of the top 100 American companies that have utilized the H-1b since 2001. At any given time, Tata has 8,000 H-1bs working in the U.S., while the top H-1b user, Microsoft, has roughly 35,000, states MyVisa.com.

“They (Tata) are certainly abusers of the H-1b program because they have total disregard whether there’s a labor shortage of American citizens with advanced skills,” says Les French, president of WashTech. “They are one of the larger operations taking advantage of the H-1b.”

Seeking to appease critics of the H-1b, however, Tata promised in 2007 it would bring 1,000 jobs to their Milford office and that most of these hires would be Americans from Greater Cincinnati. Back then, The Times of India wrote, “(Tata’s) Milford office will take in mostly local hires over the next three years after Tata cranks it up with associates from India”.

A Tata press release from September 2010 states the Milford office has 400 employees, with 300 of them local hires, many fresh out of college.

When Tata first proposed establishing a major IT hub near Cincinnati, among those enticing the firm were Gov. Ted Strickland and the Cincinnati USA Partnership. The state offered Tata an eight-year Ohio Job Creation Tax Credit, valued at $15 million. The Ohio Department of Development has also tossed in a $2.5 million Rapid Outreach Grant.

“What a slap-in-the-face to the American worker,” French says about the incentives.

According to the Ohio Department of Development, Tata has until 2012 to meet their end of the deal. If not, then the incentives are “clawed back.”Thus, Tata has roughly 600 jobs to fill within 18 months. Will they hire Americans or bring in IT pros from India?

“I cannot give that info out (nevertheless) the vast majority of our employees in our Milford office have been locally hired which continues to be our hiring strategy for that office moving forward,” says Michael McCabe, director of North American communications for Tata.

The Ohio Department of Development told CityBeat the new hires had better be Americans or Tata will lose all incentives.

“Yes, it matters,” says Jeff Botti, a department spokesman. “Companies receive credit only for those employees who are legal residents of Ohio.”

According to Botti, 10 percent of Tata’s Ohio’s workforce is H-1b. But now that they’ve established a secure foothold in the Buckeye State, are more H-1bs on the way for other major corporations and banks such as Citigroup?

In 2008, nearly a year to the day after Gov. Strickland announced the Tata deal, Tata’s main office in Mumbai bagged a $2.5 billion contract with Citigroup to provide outsourcing services and infrastructure support for 10 years. By the way, the New York-based Citigroup, which suffered huge losses during the Great Recession due to subprime mortgages (needing billions in TARP bailout funds while also laying-off thousands to stay afloat), has two big hubs within Greater Cincinnati, employing 3,000.

Over 80 percent work at Citigroup’s credit card call center in Florence, and the rest at its Information Technology Center in Blue Ash. In 2006, when Citigroup opened the Blue Ash IT center, 1,000 new jobs were on the way, announced the bank, which is one of the nation's largest. Due to the downturn, though, just a few hundred positions have been filled.

Will Citigroup fill their 1,000-stated quota, and, if so, with Americans or H-1bs? Citigroup refuses to talk about their H-1bs or make clear statements about them, as do Microsoft, Tata and just about everybody else.

“To meet our customers’s expectations, Citi outsources some of its operations and technology work to vendors,” says Janis Tarter of Citigroup’s Global Public Affairs in San Francisco.

Ironically, during the past year, Gov. Strickland campaigned hard against outsourcing. In August he even banned offshore outsourcing by all state agencies, upsetting Tata and other Indian outsourcing companies.

“Outsourcing jobs does not reflect Ohio values,” wrote Strickland in the executive order. It was in stark contrast to just a few years before, when he invited Tata executives to the governor’s mansion for dinner.

But ultimately, Strickland’s anti-outsourcing bent during the campaign was was a desperate move to catch challenger John Kasich, who’s a gung-ho supporter of outsourcing and other free market, pro-Wall Street policies.

Which begs the question: What is Gov.-elect Kasich’s view on the H-1b visa?

Despite repeated attempts to get an answer, Kasich’s office never returned telephone calls.

 
 
 
 

 

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