High-tech workers complain about immigrant visa program

The Associated Press
Friday September 27, 2002

The Associated Press 


SAN JOSE — High-tech workers who are U.S. citizens are complaining that companies are replacing them with guest foreign workers who are paid less, the San Jose Mercury News reported Thursday. 

The engineers and programmers say employers are hiring the foreign workers under the H-1B visa program, which was expanded during the height of the tech boom to address a shortfall of domestic programmers and engineers. 

“Betrayal is the word that comes to mind,” said Allan Masri, a San Jose engineer who was laid off last year from an engineering job at Netscape. 

Masri told the Mercury News he was replaced by a colleague who holds an H-1B visa. Netscape denied the claim. 

It’s not clear how many U.S. workers are reporting the problem. Complaints filed with the federal government are not made public until they are resolved. 

The Mercury News, however, reported scores of complaints at attorneys’ offices and government agencies ranging from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to the Labor Department. 

“One recruiter flatly told me they have 50 H-1Bs willing to work cheap ahead of me in line,” said James Stakelum, a database administrator who lives in Dallas. 

While Stakelum has not filed a complaint, others have. 

U.S. citizen Jenlih Hsieh claims SwitchOn Networks of Milpitas fired him after six months and replaced him with a foreign worker.  

According to his complaint with the EEOC, the H-1B worker earned $30,000 less a year. 

An attorney for the company said Hsieh’s dismissal had nothing to do with his citizenship. 

H-1B visas are used to bring skilled foreign workers into sectors that have shortages of qualified U.S. workers. They last six years. 

Program supporters say the visas help companies find qualified workers. They say U.S. schools aren’t producing enough computer engineers. 

Critics say companies are simply trying to cut costs. 

The Justice Department is investigating complaints that allege discrimination on the basis of their citizenship. 

The department is currently investigating Sun Microsystems Inc. based on a laid-off engineer’s complaint in April. 

“They’re very tough cases to prove,” an unidentified Justice Department official told the Mercury News.