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H-1B Visa and Black America's Immigration Dilemma

There are few issues that reveal the deleterious effects that U.S. employment, education and economic policies have had on Black America more than the subject of immigration. And no where is this more evident than in the case of the H-1B visa program which allows for U.S. companies to hire workers from other countries in order to fill high-skilled and technology-related positions that are available in this country. Today, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote overwhelmingly in favor of an increase in the number of visas available under the program.

The H-1B visa allows a certain number of immigrants, each year, to enter the U.S. in order to fill jobs throughout the U.S. The program is especially popular in Silicon Valley, where the high-technology claims that it is experiencing a skilled-labor shortage among the domestic labor pool. Even Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has argued in support of increased immigration as a means to address the much talked about U.S. labor shortage or "tight" labor market as it is commonly referred to.

Many dispute such claims and reject such arguments.

Labor groups and others claim that there are plenty of qualified Americans, in this country, who are not working, or who are transitioning from other careers, who can fill the positions currently being offered to immigrants under the H-1B visa program. And even if the claims of Silicon Valley and other corporations are true, these groups argue that the government should take the lead in re-training the American labor force.

They make the case that a labor shortage in key industries, if it does in fact exist, should be considered a national crisis and one that needs to be addressed by the allocation of government resources, particularly in the area of worker education programs.

For Blacks, the situation is even more pronounced as Black political leaders and economists have not been able, over the years to successfully advocate fiscal and monetary policies that can address the disequilibria that Blacks have experienced, up from slavery, as the American economy has moved from an agrarian and manufacturing economy to one that is predominately service and information-based. This evolution in the American economy has displaced many Blacks who have not been able to make the transition from one economic paradigm to another.

And few black leaders have been able to forcefully argue that Blacks in this country should get preference over any foreigners when labor shortages do exist, even if massive retraining is required.

Unfortunately, in the eyes of many, though they have expressed dissatisfaction with the legislation, members of the Congressional Black Caucus have supported the annual increase of the H-1B visa program.

For some, the support of Black Caucus members for H-1B has been problematic because there efforts have not been balanced by the significant increase in retraining and reeducation programs that would successfully move Black men and women into the high-tech industry with the skills necessary to fill jobs that are currently being offered to foreigners.

And that trend would continue under the Senate version of the bill (S-2045), up for vote today, which would allow the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to issue 195,000 H-1B visas in each of the next three years. This amount is up from the 107,500 authorized visas for the fiscal year 2001and the 115,000 that were made available for the current fiscal year.

Many argue that the H-1B visa program would not be necessary if U.S. lawmakers and particularly Black members of Congress, recognized the connection between flawed U.S. fiscal and monetary policies over the last 30 years and the cycle of poverty that relegates Blacks disproportionately to the role of manual laborers in the U.S. economy and not as skilled laborers, producers and property owners with access to equity capital.

For many, the subject is a touchy one, as Black political leaders don't want to be positioned as enemies of immigration.

But a clear distinction needs to be made, according to many, who provide evidence that the H-1B visa overwhelmingly benefits immigrants from India and Southeast Asia and not those immigrants from countries with large Black and Latino populations in Central and South America and Africa. In fact, Black Caucus members and other Democrats have tried to attach amendments that would deal with larger issues of the biased nature of U.S. immigration policy that makes it harder for illegal immigrants from Haiti and Central America to gain amnesty and to aid in the process of speeding up the process by which immigrants from these countries gain permanent residency status. The Elian Gonzalez case put a spotlight on the discrepancies in the treatment of immigrants from certain countries, particularly the unfavorable treatment that Haitian immigrants receive when compared to Cuban immigrants.

But these amendments are tangential in nature and don't deal with the core issue of why America looks abroad for workers when it has qualified workers in this country or when it can train currently mid to low-skilled citizens to become high-skilled laborers in a very short amount of time.

If the bill passes the Senate it is not clear what will happen to it in the House as competing groups of Republicans have offered H-1B visa bills. The House can either decide to call up the Senate version of the bill for a straight up or down vote or the House can pass its own version of H-1B visa legislation and/or insert it in one of the spending bills that must be passed before Congress adjourns.

At present, only Ralph Nader has elevated the issue of the H-1B visa and its impact on Black workers in this presidential current campaign season.

Here is a press release put out yesterday by John William Templeton who specializes on the H-1B issue and its relevance to Blacks in the high-tech sector. The release details some of the arguments of Blacks who argue that Silicon Valley companies discriminate against Blacks in favor of recruiting and hiring foreign workers, particularly under the H-1B program.

Silicon Ceiling II: How the Federal Government Allows High Tech Companies to Violate Civil Rights Laws: new report says discrimination complainants ignored by agencies that are supposed to protect them

OAKLAND -- The federal agencies empowered to enforce civil rights acts protecting minorities, older workers and other protected classes are giving preferential treatment to thousands of high technology companies, according to Silicon Ceiling II: How the Federal Government Allows High Tech Companies to Violate Civil Rights Laws.

"For the past three years, the Joint Reporting Committee composed of the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission has refused to require the mandatory filing of fair employment records by high technology companies," noted report author John William Templeton. "As of August, 2000, the EEOC and Labor Department still had no idea how many high technology companies there were, either in Silicon Valley or nationally."

A form called the EEO-1 form has been required to be filed with the Joint Reporting Committee by all American employers with more than 100 employees or with at least $50,000 in government contracts under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Executive Order 11246 empowers government agencies to debar companies who fail to comply with this and other regulations, a power that the American Sociological Association has called the most effective civil rights sanction available to the federal government.

The first Silicon Ceiling report obtained 253 EEO-1 forms from high tech companies in Northern California through a Freedom of Information Act request, although other readily-available records indicated that more than 1,400 companies fit the mandatory requirements.

Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and EEOC Chair Ida Castro were asked in March and April, 2000 to enforce the law among those companies by the deadline of September 30, 2000. They have authority to compel filing by obtaining an order from a U.S. district judge.

The agencies were first made aware of the disparities in May 1998 by a query from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Silicon Valley, an ad hoc alliance of African-American professional and technical leaders. Both officials declined to take action in letters of response. "This is the third deadline to pass when the agencies that are supposed to protect civil rights completely abdicate their responsibility," added Templeton. "As a result, a climate of retribution and harassment has been targeted to African-American employees such as Lindsay Brown and Renee White, both dismissed from 3Com one day after filing a discrimination complaint or Eugene Shands, who faced outrageous comments about a whip at NEC Electronics," said the author. "Other companies use high-pressure legal tactics to intimidate complainants, such as sealed settlements to cover up dozens of discrimination complaints," said Templeton. "Maria Flores had to spend her own money to file a federal lawsuit against giant Oracle Corp. after the EEOC failed to act on her combined civil rights complaint.

Now Oracle is targeting her current employer and other employers in an effort to force her to drop the suit through further harassment." Days after Flores was questioned for hours by an Oracle attorney about persons she had spoken to about her complaint, the file containing notes by a newspaper reporter who interviewed Flores disappeared from his office.

Without federal enforcement, individuals like Flores or Brown or White have to face billionaires like Oracle's Lawrence Ellison, with a net worth of $58 billion. "Even when people have the courage to speak out against those long odds, the federal agencies have consistently refused to protect their civil rights particularly in the past three years," states the report.

After White House officials were advised in March of the repeated retaliation by 3Com, the CEO of the company was honored with a photo opportunity on the "digital divide." At the same time, companies are seeking new legislation to bring additional foreign workers into the country.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-MA, introduced an amendment to S. 2045 to require companies to demonstrate compliance with fair employment laws before applying for the popular H-1B non-immigrant visa.

However, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-MI, is blocking the amendment from a floor vote. High tech companies have donated more than $72 million to Presidential and Congressional candidates. "Most American employers are willing to demonstrate that they have fair employment workforces by complying with the Civil Rights Act of 1964," noted Templeton. "As a result, African-American professional and managerial employment has risen from 40,000 nationally in 1964 to more than 3 million.

Our review of Silicon Valley employment has demonstrated that its employment of blacks and Hispanics is declining throughout the 1990s. Other industries such as telecommunications and cable television with comparable skill needs have African-American percentages of employees exceeding their presence in the workforce. " The Coalition for Fair Employment in Silicon Valley testified in May 2000 to the House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee about its employment test of Bay Area companies that applied for H-1B visas. The jobs were advertised among African-American and older Americans. Resumes of skilled applicants were obtained within a few days and submitted to 100 applying companies.

Not a single company responded to the applicants, despite making an attestation that it could not find American workers.

Yet, the Justice Department office supposed to enforce the law had not yet implemented the regulations, two years after the passage of the law increasing H-1B visas.

Cedric Muhammad

Tuesday, October 3, 2000

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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