U.S. Senators Lambaste Outsourcing Firms

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Two U.S. senators -- a Democrat and a Republican -- are taking aim at nine prominent outsourcing companies demanding that they explain their use of the H-1B program.

In letter mailed to the companies Monday, Senators Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., wrote: "We have been concerned about reported fraud and abuse of the H-1B and L visa programs, and their impact on American workers. We are also concerned that the program is not being used as Congress intended."

The companies in question used some 20,000, or 30 percent, of the 65,000 H-1B's issued this year. The letter, posted on Grassley's Web site, were addressed to Infosys, Wipro, Tata, Saytam, Patni Systems, Larsen & Toubro, I-Flex, Tech Mahindra Americas, and Mphasis. Federal law makes 65,000 H-1B visas are available each year for workers in such specialty fields as computer programmers, engineers, architects, accountants, doctors, college professors and fashion models. Another 20,000 visas are available for foreign workers with at least a master's degree from a U.S. college or university.

The high-tech industry has long complained that too few visas are available. Microsoft, for example, has long been a proponent of increasing the H-1B limit. The Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC), whose backers include Apple, Dell, eBay and Intel, last year asked that the cap be raised to 115,000.

This spring the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service said it had reached its limit for 2008 H-1B visa petitions within a day of the set deadline, the fastest that has occurred. The government agency reported it had received about 150,000 applications for 65,000 slots in one day.

The senators' letter also seeks to address pay: "Some groups, such as the Programmers Guild, have analyzed the wages paid to H-1B visa holders. They have found that the average annual salary of foreign workers is significantly lower than that of new U.S. graduates. Second, a number of consulting firms reportedly recruit foreign workers and then outsource the individuals to other job sites or companies. Many of the top 20 companies that used H-1B visas in 2006 are firms, such as yours, that specialize in offshore outsourcing.

"Third, a number of firms have allegedly laid off American workers while continuing to employ H-1B visa holders. The American people are concerned about such lay offs at a time when the demand for visa issuances and the recruitment of foreign workers appear to be increasing. "

The letter, multiple versions of which were sent, are sure to generate more heat over an already hot topic. Many experts thought some immigration reform might pass this year and the H-1B program could be part of that. But observers say political contentiousness and issues, such as the ones brought up by these letters, will only serve to squash such changes.

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