BusinessWeek blasts high tech sweatshops
By Ria Sharma
America had set up the H-1B visa program to hire on a short term basis highly skilled workers not available in USA. The ground reality is that some Indian tech firms had used every loophole in the H-1B system to bring in low cost workers into USA. The American Congress, Government, public service and media are now focusing on this H1B fraud.
The US Government allocates 85000 H1B visas every year, 20 thousand of which are reserved for foreign students who have done higher degrees in USA. Favouring such an H1B Visa system were the Bush Government backed by powerful tech companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Google and GE. President Obama, while in favour of outsourcing, prefers a slower pace during the economic downturn.
Not surprisingly, many Americans dislike the huge H1B quotas. American techies who have lost their jobs to highly skilled but relatively low cost Indian workers dislike such a system. So do Unions which want to keep American jobs in America.
Many Indian and American tech companies who import Indians on H1B visas pay them good wages and treat them well. But there are a few bad managers who exploit these highly skilled and competitively priced Indian techies.
First, US Congress passed laws forcing American companies receiving bail out funds to give first preference to locals. The American Government now double checks every H1B Visa application. Now, the national media has started doing some hard hitting stories as well.
Founded in 1929, iconic American magazine BusinessWeek has the same clout as Forbes and Fortune. Now, BusinessWeek has become the first national business magazine to run a cover story about ‘America’s High Tech Sweatshops’ which exposes how ‘US companies may be contributing unwittingly to the exploitation of workers imported from India’
While the BusinessWeek report published this month may not be a surprise for the insiders in the Indian tech industry, it is the first time that a pro-H1B magazine has given some prominent coverage to the exploitation of Indian workers. This article is certainly making waves in USA with more than 470 people leaving comments. Some excerpts of the article
In recent months workers have alleged mistreatment while working for body shops in the offices of Qualcomm (QCOMM) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM). In a civil suit filed in May and a complaint to the U.S. Labor Dept., Prasad Nair charged that Unified Business Technologies got him an H-1B visa in 2007 by saying he would work in the company's Troy (Mich.) offices and receive $60,000 a year as a programmer and analyst. Instead, UBT sent him to work at chipmaker Qualcomm's offices in San Diego, where the cost of living and prevailing wage for such a position are much higher. The 32-year-old alleged UBT made unlawful pay deductions, delayed payments, failed to pay overtime, and postponed health benefits for his family. David Blanchard, Nair's attorney, says he struggled "paycheck to paycheck" to take care of his wife and 9-month-old daughter and regularly ate at Burger King to save money.
Even workers who land jobs in the U.S. can end up on the bench, without a paycheck for weeks or months. Rajiv Dabhadkar, an Indian who was assigned to such companies as AT&T and Merrill Lynch on guest worker visas, recalls that when a staffing company replaced him with a new visa holder from India, he was so short of cash he couldn't pay the electric bill for his Belleville apartment. He and his wife and their 5-year-old daughter had to wear coats indoors for a few days in the winter. Ultimately, he says, his wife returned to India and filed for divorce. "I am a survivor and a witness," says Dabhadkar, who now lives outside Mumbai and runs the National Organization for Software & Technology Professionals, which publicizes abuses of guest workers.
The BusinessWeek article ends with the efforts by Indians to organize themselves to stop their exploitation
Foreign workers aren't waiting for American companies or the U.S. government to address the issue of high-tech sweatshops. They've set up Web sites to discuss their experiences with different companies. On sites such as Desi Crunch and Goolti, they talk anonymously and steer one another away from the worst employers. On Desi Crunch, one writer marvels that a company can still attract any potential employees. The worker compares the firm to "an H-1B prison camp" and says, "trust nothing they say or write." ”
Till last year, Indian tech companies were the recipients of the largest chunk of such working visas. Looks like they will be under great scrutiny from now on.