Imagine losing a chance at the American Dream at the place “where dreams come true.” That’s what happened to hundreds of Disney IT employees this time last year, when they lost their jobs to foreign replacements imported through the H-1B visa program.
Today, these former workers are fighting back. Employees just filed a federal lawsuit against Disney for “conspiring” to replace them with foreign workers. They’re right to protest the H-1B program. As it stands today, the program enables corporations to swap out qualified American workers with cheaper foreign employees.
Established in 1990, the H-1B immigration program allows employers to recruit highly specialized foreign workers, such as “fashion models of distinguished merit and ability.” Congress intended that employers only turn to H-1B visa holders when they couldn’t find anyone suitable in the American workforce.
Yet companies have abused the program to import highly skilled, but not highly specialized, foreigners who accept lower wages. As a result, the companies fire or refuse to hire qualified Americans.
This abuse has particularly hurt American IT workers, since tech work, such as coding, doesn’t require extensive knowledge of the English language or American culture. Southern California Edison recently fired 540 American tech workers, while Northeast Utilities let go of half of their American IT workers. Both companies brought in foreign replacements through the H-1B program.
This H-1B abuse doesn’t just harm those who were laid off. It also hurts those seeking employment. Each year, only about half of the students who graduate with a STEM degree secure a job in their field.
In other words, companies can select from a large pool of highly skilled American job seekers. Industry is just choosing to employ foreigners.
Luckily, there’s a bill in the works that could help to curb the abuse of the H-1B visa program. The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act requires employers to “make a good faith effort to recruit American workers.” More importantly, the bill also prohibits employers from replacing American workers with H-1B visa workers.
Such a reform could protect thousands of Americans from unjust layoffs. It’s acceptable for companies to use the H-1B program when there are truly no Americans with the required skillset. It’s not acceptable to abuse the program to undercut wages and destroy workers’ chance at the American Dream.