The Conversation

The joys of training your imported replacement

The immigration debate is mostly driven by the crisis of massive illegal immigration, which has been deliberately conflated with legal immigration by activists, to the extent that we're not even supposed to refer to them as "illegal aliens" any more.  When people protest efforts to allow illegals across the border and give them amnesty, you can bet they'll be described as "anti-immigration" by the media, even though they haven't said a word about legal immigration.

There's actually very little organized effort to reduce legal immigration, perhaps in part because the American people are exhausted from fighting over the illegal variety.  People who want to vigorously demonstrate they're not xenophobic will eagerly agree that legal immigration is great, especially when it concerns highly-skilled workers who are unlikely to become a strain on the American welfare system.  Rarely does anyone suggest the level of legal immigration might be too high.  There's a near-total bipartisan consensus in Washington that it should be higher.

One of the very few politicians to oppose this consensus is Dave Brat, the upstart who defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the recent Virginia GOP primary.  Criticizing Cantor's support for increasing H-1B visas - the mechanism by which select, highly-skilled foreign workers gain temporary permission to work in the U.S. - from an already meaty 85k per year to 180k per year, Brat said, "The Chamber wants low-skilled cheap labor; Mark Zuckerberg wants high-skilled cheap labor; but, at the end of the day, what they have in common is that they all want cheap labor, and Eric Cantor wants to give it to them."  He was referring to the Chamber of Commerce and Facebook tycoon Zuckerberg, respectively, and he was not overstating the latter's enthusiasm for raising the H-1B visa cap.

180,000 high-tech workers might not seem to count for much, when measured against the millions of illegal aliens already living in the United States, or the hundreds of thousands more - many of them unaccompanied minors - currently swamping the border in search of the amnesty they were promised.  But if you're one of the people losing good jobs to an H-1B worker, they can loom very large indeed.  Such was the case with an anonymous American IT worker identified only as "A.B." by Computerworld, which has devoted considerable effort to monitoring the higher end of the immigration debate, and the loss of domestic tech jobs to imported workers.

The story told by Computerworld is harrowing, and infuriating.  The displaced American workers learned of the impending demise of their jobs months in advance.  During the transition period, older techs who could not quickly secure new positions were made to dig their own graves, as they trained their replacements from India:

Training the replacement workers involved holding morning-long WebEx meetings several times a week with offshore outsourcing staff based in India. The sessions were recorded as details about the environment, including diagrams and scripts, were shared.

As they moved closer to the termination date for the U.S. workers, the overseas employees would follow or shadow, via WebEx sessions, everything an IT worker did during the day. The outsourcing firm's onshore staff helped to coordinate these efforts, but also worked to untangle the meaning of some of the questions.

The overseas workers did not appear to have much practical experience, and the same questions were asked repeatedly, A.B. said.

Tell me that doesn't sound like a little slice of heaven.  Not only are you training your cheaper imported replacement, but they're watching everything you do all day, via "ghosting" software.

The outgoing American workers wrapped up their careers with a little symbolic rebellion, peppering their cubicles with American flags.  Interestingly, the Indian workforce replacing them didn't understand what was going on, and seemed under the impression that the displaced American techs would skip happily off to other jobs.  

There's a substantial initial cost involved with outsourcing, which means government policies designed to make it cheaper are certain to have a profound impact on how often the strategy is considered... and guaranteeing that it will be almost impossible to reverse.  Those who demand higher H-1B limits never talk about their burning desire to replace Americans with cheaper imported workers, of course; instead, they say they're having trouble finding enough skilled Americans to fill all the positions they have available.  Incidents like the one covered by Computerworld give the lie to that excuse... but even if it were true, shouldn't it be taken as an utterly devastating indictment of the hideously overpriced American educational system?  A nation with grinding unemployment rates, particularly among the young, and a collapsed workforce can't muster enough skilled labor to fill the needs of high-tech corporations?  And the solution is not to make a more solid investment in the U.S. workforce, or reduce the overhead on domestic labor, but to double the number of H-1B visas?


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