MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
A short time ago, BuzzFlash at Truthout ran a commentary on how US global corporations don't give a hoot about increasing jobs in America.
In it, we included a section about how Silicon Valley high-tech companies, particularly Apple, use overseas contractors to manufacture their latest technological consumer products. It has been documented that some of these contractors create such harsh conditions and pay such low wages that workers have been driven to suicide, as The New York Times and other publications have detailed.
In a two-part Times expose, an Apple executive claimed: "We [Apple] don't have an obligation to solve America's problems." That was in response to Apple shipping so many potential US jobs overseas to these slave-wage sweatshops; e.g., "90 percent of the parts of an iPhone are made outside the U.S."
But there's another insidious way that the high-tech industry denies jobs to US citizens. It's called the H-1B visa, which allows America's technological firms - and other specialized employers - to bring in foreign employees, frequently at a lower wage package than might be paid to an individual with the same qualifications who is an American citizen. There are many arguments against the program, primarily the allegation that there is generally no actual shortage of US citizens with high-tech skills for the work done by H-1B visa holders.
President Obama appeared blindsided by a question on a Google Plus interactive town hall the other day from a woman whose husband had been laid off by Texas Instruments:
Jennifer Wedel was the second to question Obama, and the four-minute exchange was among the most memorable of the 50-minute online event.
"My question to you is to why does the government continue to issue and extend H-1B visas when there are tons of Americans just like my husband with no job?" she asked.
Obama offered that industry leaders have told him that there aren't enough of certain kinds of high-tech engineers in America to meet their needs. Jennifer Wedel interrupted him to explain that that answer didn't match what her husband is seeing out in the real world.
"Jennifer, can I ask what kind of engineer your husband is?"
"He's a semiconductor engineer," she told the president, who seemed genuinely surprised.
"If you send me your husband's resume, I'd be interested in finding out exactly what's happening right there," he told her. "The word we're getting is somebody in that high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away. And the H-1B should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field."
Of course, the high-tech companies are telling the White House and Congress that they can't find US citizens for the H-1B jobs, but many critics argue that many high-tech companies hire H-1B workers without even offering the positions to Americans. On top of that, after the H-1B workers are sent back to their native nations, there are reports that they are rehired by US companies abroad to start offshore high-tech offices that move more US jobs overseas. In short, the H-1B visa could be seen as an outsourcing training program at the expense of highly skilled US professionals.
It was nice of the president of the United States to offer his personal job placement services to Jennifer Wedel's husband, but it's a bit disturbing that the White House appears to have fallen for the Silicon Valley canard.
When it comes to the H-1B visa, it's the same old story: follow the profits.