Visa Abuse at Disney

Disney CEO Bob Iger is a co-chairman of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group that advocates increasing the H-1B visa cap. The Partnership recently sponsored a closed briefing for Congressional staff on Capitol Hill. One of the documents distributed to staffers said: “H-1B workers complement – instead of displace – U.S. Workers.” It argued that employers use foreign workers to fill “more technical and low-level jobs, so that U.S. workers can “assume managerial and leadership positions.”

But that isn’t the way IT workers at Iger’s own company, Disney, experienced it, according to Computer World:

At the end of October, IT employees at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts were called, one-by-one, into conference rooms to receive notice of their layoffs. Multiple conference rooms had been set aside for this purpose, and in each room an executive read from a script informing the worker that their last day would be Jan. 30, 2015.

Some workers left the rooms crying; others appeared shocked. …

From the perspective of five laid-off Disney IT workers, all of whom agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, Disney cut well-paid and longtime staff members, some who had been previously singled out for excellence, as it shifted work to contractors. These contractors used foreign labor, mostly from India. …

“Some of these folks were literally flown in the day before to take over the exact same job I was doing,” said one of the IT workers who lost his job. He trained his replacement and is angry over the fact he had to train someone from India “on site, in our country.”

Disney officials promised new job opportunities as a result of the restructuring, and employees marked for termination were encouraged to apply for those positions. But the workers interviewed said they knew of few co-workers who had landed one of the new jobs.

One of the fired Disney employees said he “didn’t want to appear as xenophobic,” but couldn’t help noticing that “there were times when I didn’t hear English spoken” in the building. No one wants to appear xenophobic, which is probably part of the problem. A great deal more attention needs to be paid to corporate abuse of the H-1B visa program. From an employer’s perspective, it offers unique advantages: the company sponsors the immigrant, who is happy to come to the U.S. and work for less than the American he replaces. Better yet, he can’t change jobs without going back to India, or wherever he came from.

It is easy to understand why some employers prefer this approach to competing in the marketplace for qualified American workers, but why our government sponsors such a program, and why some politicians want to greatly expand it, is another question. Democrats have the luxury of not having to care about workers, but my guess is that any Republican presidential candidate who doesn’t take the position that U.S. immigration law should put the interests of American workers first, has no shot at the nomination.