Sep 12, 2020 - Politics & Policy

How some companies take advantage of H-1Bs to replace Americans

Illustrated collage of a hard hat with an American flag and travel stamps surrounded by stars and stripes.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Last month President Trump fired two Tennessee Valley Authority board members after the federally owned energy corporation replaced employees with foreign workers.

Why it matters: It was the latest example of big corporations — including AT&T, Disney and Southern California Edison — using H-1B visas for cheaper labor, and sometimes forcing Americans to first train their foreign replacements.

Conservative immigration advocates and others critical of the H-1B program say Trump has done too little to prevent this kind of abuse, despite explicit campaign promises in 2016. Record U.S. unemployment has exacerbated the concern.

  • "He hasn’t really taken any steps to make any of the real fixes" to the H-1B program, Economic Policy Institute's Daniel Costa said. "A lot of it has been somewhat symbolic."
  • Current and former administration officials told Axios they felt Trump was never serious about protecting American jobs from misuse of foreign worker programs, as evidenced by the administration’s failure to end such abuses.
  • “He talked a lot of talk,” they said.

There are few comprehensive studies on the scope of the phenomenon because contracts and outsourcing processes are typically kept quiet.

  • Conversations with workers and attorneys paint a picture of a fine-tuned process. U.S. workers are often assured their job will not change when they are "rebadged" to work for a contractor.
  • "The sad reality is you’ve just been terminated without your severance," one AT&T worker told Axios in December.
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