H-1B Program, with a Couple of Deserved Black Eyes, Opens Filing Season

By David North on April 12, 2012

The H-1B nonimmigrant program for high-tech and other professional workers bears a couple of prominent bruises as the FY 2013 filing season opens.

While network TV routinely ignores abuses in the immigration system, today's full-throated "CBS This Morning" treatment of the misuse of H-1B and B-1 visas was a welcome exception to the rule.

The network assigned veteran investigative reporter John Miller to the story. He may best be remembered as the young ABC correspondent who got one of the last interviews given to an American by the late Osama bin Laden. Miller's piece on how IT giant Infosys manipulates the immigration system to increase its profits (and deny jobs to Americans) was given nearly 10 minutes of uninterrupted air time, an eternity in network television.

Miller's piece, while not full of new news for immigration specialists, was a major breakthrough because of its prominent play, and thus possibly may be a game-changer in the immigration debate. For more information on Infosys and the fraudulent use of the program in general, see my previous blogs here, here, and here.

Miller brought both gravitas and a clear verdict that what Infosys had done was both illegal and unfair to American workers. Much of the segment was devoted to conversations between Miller and Infosys whistle-blower Jay Palmer, an American still on Infosys' payroll, who told of how lackluster Indian workers, "freshers", were brought in under the H-1B program by Infosys despite their obvious lack of the "specialized knowledge" credentials that the law requires.

According to Palmer it was all about increasing profits as the policies hurt American workers who could easily fill the jobs in question. That the H-1B program hurts resident workers was repeated several times in the course of the segment.

Palmer, incidentally, came across as a sympathetic and totally serious person, taking a huge risk to his career to expose this issue in court and on the TV program. While he may be shunned by software companies in the future, his current job at Infosys is presumably safe as long as the case is in court. Infosys would be foolish to retaliate further against him while the civil trial in federal district court in Texas is still on the docket. He is apparently doing less significant work for the company than he did prior to the filing of the case.

While the CBS segment is the latest black eye that the H-1B program has acquired, there is also the lingering shiner that follows the well-reported case of Darin Wedel, whose outspoken wife achieved an unusual breakthrough when she told the president that her husband was jobless because of the H-1B program. Obama asked for his resume and, as many of us predicted, he got a job offer, but one he could not accept because it was in New York and he had family obligations in Dallas.

So Wedel, a skilled engineer, remains unemployed, and the story resurfaces from time to time, presumably to the embarrassment of the White House.

As one who worked on the outer fringes of the LBJ White House, I know how that president would have handled the matter, and quickly. Lyndon Johnson would have picked up the phone, called some Dallas-based tycoon, and said something like this:

Listen, Roy, this guy is a nuisance to me. I want you to hire him at whatever salary he wants, and keep him happy and employed as long as I am in the White House. I don't give a **** if he doesn't do a lick of work. Just get him out of my hair.

Got that?

And it would have been done, and the story would have disappeared.

Meanwhile, on April 2 USCIS began accepting H-1B applications for FY 2013, with the first of the approved filings becoming effective on October 1, 2012.

The agency announced a week later that it had in hand about 17,400 applications against the main 65,000-visa ceiling, and 8,200 against the 20,000 ceiling for those with advanced degrees, usually master's.

That more than two-thirds of the first batch of applications require only a bachelor's degree suggests that the program is not being used, as its supporters argue, to import only the "best and the brightest". That thought was supported by Jay Palmer's comments this morning on CBS.