By Steven Mintz
The recent decision by the UC San Francisco to outsource about 100 IT jobs of Americans to foreign workers under the H1-B visa program smacks of irresponsibility. UC is training software engineers at the same time they are outsourcing those jobs to foreigners. It is the height of hypocrisy to rationalize their actions as a cost-saving measure when the system is not-for-profit.
Yes, I understand that state funding for public universities in California has taken a hit these past few years. Still, UC should look for other ways to cut costs, perhaps by eliminating unnecessary administrative positions. Having taught in the CSU system for over 20 years, I can attest to the fact that bloated administration exists and there is inadequate funding for academic programs.
UCSF, the system’s largest medical center, announced that the workers would be gone by Feb. 28. The foreign workers are being provided by the Indian outsourcing company HCL. To add insult to injury, the American workers being displaced are expected to train the foreign workers who will then return to India and train additional workers.
It is the height of hypocrisy for UCSF officials to proclaim that most of the laid-off workers would have little trouble finding new jobs in the vibrant Bay Area technology industry. According to UCSF Health CEO Mark Laret, three of the workers already have accepted other positions at UCSF and some have been offered work by HCL.
“These individuals are not unemployable,” Laret said. If they are in such high demand, why get rid of them and risk quality control problems down the line? Is this move serving the interests of the public?
The H1-B visa program is designed to allow American companies to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis, and not to replace American workers with the skills needed to perform the jobs. UC is violating the spirit of the law by outsourcing jobs to foreigners under the cloak of having the trained workers return to India.
I am also concerned about the nature of the outsourced work. It includes managing and backing up most of the system’s data; administration of its data networks operations related to its telephones; email and video conferencing; and payroll and financial applications. This presents serious concerns because it may jeopardize confidential financial and patient records.
Questions have been raised by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who reminded UC President Janet Napolitano of its public responsibilities. Napolitano skirted the issue by tinkering with the plan by limiting the H1-B visa workers and transferring other jobs to other locations. This a smoke screen designed to mask the real purpose, which is not to have foreign workers stay on the job here but to eventually move the jobs to India.
This is not the first time a California company has used the H1-B visa program to replace American workers with foreigners. Three years ago, Disney announced that 250 tech workers would be laid off. Many of their jobs were transferred to outsourcing firms like India’s Infosys and Tata. The replaced American workers were also required to train their replacements at Disney.
The H1-B practices by UC and other entities limits the number of visas that can be used to accomplish the real intent of the program, which is to bring in skilled workers when there is a shortage of highly skilled American workers to fill these positions. The federal government limits the number of H1-B visas to 65,000 every year with 20,000 additional visas for foreign professionals who graduate with a master’s or doctoral degree from a U.S. university. This is a drop in the bucket and hiring foreign workers who will return to their home country threatens the viability of the visa program.
There should a better solution than to replace qualified California workers with foreigners. Taken to its extreme, the H1-B visa program may be used by other companies to transfer well-paying jobs to foreigners in California and elsewhere. The U.S. Congress needs to close the loophole by prohibiting American companies from using the program when American workers have the requisite skill to do the IT jobs, and then rationalize the practice by having foreign workers return to their country of origin.
Steven Mintz is professor emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and an expert on ethics.