Statement of Rep. Lamar Smith.
Re: H1-B Legislation.

Date: May 20, 1998.
Source:  Office of Rep. Lamar Smith.



MAY 20, 1998


Mr. Chairman, I hope today we will increase the cap on the number of certain high-skilled foreign workers. The computer industry comprises one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy, and the industry tells us that more information technology employees are needed.

I also hope we will approve two fair and reasonable safeguards for American workers. One will protect them from being fired and replaced by foreign workers. The second will ask companies to recruit American workers before hiring from overseas.

Why do we need these safeguards? We need them to protect American workers. Listen to Barbara Landy, of Larkspur, California:

"Of course, older programmers can be retrained . . . . The idea that people have to be discarded because they are not capable of learning something a little new is a revolting myth, completely at odds with the American ideal of human potential. . . . I am a 54 year old programmer who has been programming for 30 years. I have, throughout my career, learned new skills . . . . Once you can program in a language . . . you can program in any language. . . . [T]he 'shortage' of technical talent should first be corrected by training older workers. . . . What the high-tech companies really want is servile, cheap labor for very ordinary programming tasks . . . ."

Ms. Landy would not be surprised to learn that the unemployment rate for computer programmers over 50 is 17%. She would not be surprised to learn that 20 years after getting bachelors degrees in computer science, only 19% of graduates are working as programmers. She would not be surprised to learn that at one time, a well-known computer company required that 70% of all new hires be new college graduates.

Television news programs and articles in newspapers such as The Atlanta Journal, The Washington Post and The Detroit News all have chronicled numerous instances of unjustified layoffs.

Take the case of Stephen Abbot. The Houston Chronicle reported that:

"Shortly after Stephen Abbot's contract with [a well-known computer company] expired, the computer programmer and software developer heard that he had been replaced by a foreigner.

Abbot, who had been earning $32 an hour at his job in Austin, said [company] managers told him that his performance wasn't bad – it's just that [they] could save money by hiring programmers from India."

Computer companies and others should be willing to affirm they won't fire an American worker so they can hire from overseas. I wish I could say it hasn't happened, but American workers have been displaced all too often.

Incredibly, some companies are unhappy that they would have to affirm that they did not fire an American worker to create an opening for a foreign worker. Apparently, they are worried about the paperwork. Yet most high-tech companies each hire only a few dozen skilled foreign workers each year. Here are some examples: Microsoft -- 64 foreign workers in 1997, Texas Instruments -- 91 foreign workers, Sun Microsystems --76 foreign workers, Hewlett Packard -- 63 foreign workers. They should be able to tell -- and be willing to attest -- that they have not displaced American workers in those positions.

H.R. 3736 would not allow the government to initiate investigations against these and similar employers. The bill only gives the government the power to check on situations where abuse is especially likely, such as with foreign worker "dependent" companies, where foreign workers comprise 15 to 100% of their workforce. These "job shops," as they are called, often hire foreign workers rather than qualified American workers.

Companies that are not foreign worker "dependent" should not be investigated unless there are abuses. But those whose hiring practices are suspect should be monitored periodically to make sure American workers are being recruited and not fired.

As for recruitment, I really don't think it's too much to ask that companies, for example, place ads in newspapers for job openings before they hire from abroad. If a qualified American worker is available, he or she should get the job.

I don't believe that companies are so uncaring, so callous, so indifferent to Americans who need jobs that they won't agree to make an effort to recruit them. In fact, the companies say they are doing it anyway. So they should be willing to simply check an additional box on their visa application form confirming that they have already used "industry-wide standards" to recruit American workers.

Some industry representatives claim they already recruit because they have to post two notices of job openings at their place of business. To say this is recruiting is laughable. The only persons who will see the notice are those who already have jobs because they are working for the company!

I would think that the high tech industry would be particularly sensitive to the necessity for these safeguards, given their recent decisions to lay off thousands of workers for restructuring purposes.

Last week, Compaq announced that it was reducing the workforce of Digital Equipment Corporation by 15,000 employees. Before that, Seagate Technology, Silicon Graphics, Netscape Communications and others had laid off thousands more. These are not just numbers; they're real people.

Think of the impact on these husbands and wives and fathers and mothers. What is the extent of their embarrassment, their loss of self-respect, the withering of their future plans? Let me suggest that computer companies hire -- and even train -- some of these people before they fill out more applications for foreign workers.

Some point to the paucity of complaints to argue that there are few abuses. But how does someone complain if no safeguards exist that can be violated? How can someone object to being replaced by a foreign worker if they don't know why they were fired? How can someone apply for a job if they don't know about the job opening?

We are not talking about government interference in a company's affairs, but government granting a company a privilege. It is a privilege, and not a right, to request that a foreigner be allowed to come to America.

How can a company earn the privilege? By showing that American workers will not be hurt if its request is granted. We ask companies to do this all the time.

The Immigration and Nationality Act provides that before a company can sponsor a foreign worker for permanent residency, the company must show that there are no American workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the job. The INA provides that before a company can sponsor a foreign worker for an H-2B temporary visa, the company must show that unemployed Americans cannot be found to do the work. So asking a company to attest that it has not laid off American workers is nothing news, but it is necessary.

Let me conclude by asking my colleagues to support higher numbers of skilled foreign workers combined with common sense safeguards to protect the rights of American workers.