US workers claim discrimination in hiring of foreigners on skilled worker visas
Federal lawsuit alleges headhunting companies are hiring cheap labour from abroad for skilled jobs under controversial H-1B visa programme
Kelly Parker was thrilled when she landed her dream job in 2012 providing technical support for Harley-Davidson's plants in the US state of Wisconsin.
The divorced mother of three hoped it was the start of a new career with the bike-maker.
The dream didn't last long. Parker claims she was laid off one year later after she trained up her replacement, a newly arrived worker from India.
Now she has joined a federal US lawsuit alleging the global staffing firm that ran HarleyDavidson's technical support discriminated against American workers, in part by replacing them with temporary workers from South Asia. The firm, India-based Infosys, denies wrongdoing and contends that it has faced a shortage of talent and specialised skills in the US.
Like other firms, Infosys wants Congress to allow even more temporary workers.
But amid calls for expanding the nation's so-called H-1B visa programme, there is growing backlash from Americans.
They argue the programme has been hijacked by staffing companies that import cheaper, lower-level workers to replace more expensive US employees - or keep them from getting hired in the first place.
"It's getting pretty frustrating when you can't compete on salary for a skilled job," said Rich Hajinlian, a computer programmer from the Boston area. "You hear all the time that these big companies ... can't find skilled workers. I am a skilled worker."
Hajinlian, 56, said he applied for a job in April through a headhunter and that the potential client appeared interested.
Then, said Hajinlian, the headhunter called back and said the client had gone with an H-1B worker whose annual salary was about US$10,000 less.
"I didn't even get a chance to negotiate down," he said.
The H-1B programme allows employers to temporarily hire workers in speciality occupations. The government issues up to 85,000 H-1B visas to businesses every year and recipients can stay up to six years.
Although no one tracks exactly how many H-1B holders are in the US, experts estimate there are at least 600,000 at any one time.
An immigration bill passed in the Senate last year would have raised the number of H-1B visas available each year to 180,000 while raising fees and increasing oversight, although language was removed that would have required all companies to consider qualified US workers before foreign workers are hired. The House of Representatives never acted on the measure.
Last month, three technology advocacy groups launched a labour boycott against Infosys, IBM and the global staffing company ManpowerGroup, citing a "pattern of excluding US workers from job openings on US soil". They say Manpower, for example, posted US job openings in India last year, but not in the United States.
"We have a shortage in the industry all right - a shortage of fair and ethical recruiting and hiring," said Donna Conroy, of Bright Future Jobs, a group of tech professionals fighting to end what it calls "discriminatory hiring that is blocking us ... from competing for jobs we are qualified to do."
Conroy added: "US workers should have the freedom to compete first for job openings."
An Infosys spokesman said the firm encourages "diversity recruitment", while IBM said it considers all qualified candidates "without regard to citizenship and immigration status".
Manpower said it "adopts the highest ethical standards and complies with all applicable laws and regulations when hiring".
The top 10 users of United States skilled worker visas
The biggest users of the H-1B visas - the visas needed to import skilled workers to the United States - tend to be global outsourcing firms. Here are the top 10 H-1B firms last year and the number of new H-1B visas they received:
1. Tata Consultancy Services 6,184
2. Infosys Technologies 6,157
3. Cognizant Tech Solutions 5,192
4. Accenture 3,321
5. Wipro 2,638
6. HCL America 1,732
7. IBM India 1,363
8. Larsen & Toubro Infotech 1,163
9. Satyam Computer Services 1,072
10. Microsoft 1,039
Source: US Citizenship and Immigration Services