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Displaced Southern California Edison Workers Sue Obama Admin. Over Unilateral Visa Rule

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Former Southern California Edison employees are suing the Obama administration over its H-4 visa rule that grants work permits to certain spouses of H-1B visa holders.

The Immigration Reform Law Institute filed a lawsuit in D.C. District Court this week against the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of Save Jobs USA — a group of former SCE employees who were displaced by H-1B visa holders.

In February, the DHS announced it would be extending work eligibility to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders — a category of immigrant previously ineligible for work permits. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says it will begin accepting applications from these visa holders on May 26.

“USCIS estimates the number of individuals eligible to apply for employment authorization under this rule could be as high as 179,600 in the first year and 55,000 annually in subsequent years,” USCIS explained in its February announcement.

The new rule was part of the executive actions on immigration President Obama announced in November.

According to IRLI and the displaced SCE workers, the action negatively impacts the SCE workers because not only does it benefit their direct H-1B visa competitors but it also increases the labor pool with new H-4 visa holders.

“DHS’s H-4 Rule, which grants work authorization to H-4 visa holders, injures Save Jobs USA’s members by (1) depriving them of statutory protections from foreign labor…(2) by increasing the number of economic competitors; and (3) by conferring benefits to their economic competitors on H-1B visas,” the lawsuit reads.

The suit makes four specific accusations and calls for the new H-4 Rule to be blocked:

Count I: DHS exceeds its authority under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(H) by authorizing H-4 visa holders to work.

Count II: DHS exceeds its authority by ignoring the statutory labor protections that must be applied to foreign labor.

Count III: DHS acted arbitrarily and capriciously by reversing a statutory interpretation adopted by Congress.

Count IV: DHS acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to gauge the effect of more foreign workers on domestic workers.

SCE has made headlines in recent months and been the subject of congressional inquiries for laying off American workers and then replacing them with H-1B visas holders. Many of the laid off workers were made to train their new replacements as a condition of their severance.

“The law states that foreign work permits cannot adversely affect American wages, but all we’ve seen during this administration is standards of living fall and outsized corporate profits continue to rise,” Dale Wilcox, IRLI’s executive director, said in a statement. “We will continue the fight on behalf of the American worker and hold this administration accountable to the rule of law.”

Thursday the Department of Labor responded to a bipartisan Senate inquiry about the possibility of an investigation into the practice of replacing American workers with cheaper, foreign workers. The DOL, however, said it “lacked a basis to initiate an investigation.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (R-IL) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), in a joint statement, vowed to continue to press the Obama administration on the matter.

This response confirms that companies can often hire H-1B guest workers to replace American workers without fear of reprisal and that Congress must act to strengthen protections for U.S. workers and to make explicit that companies cannot engage in these practices. The law must be written to clearly prohibit replacing American workers with H-1B visa workers,” the pair said.


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