US Lawmakers Propose Change In H-1B Visa Laws To Contest Layoffs: Report

Detail from a US visa document. Selective focus with point of focus in the center of the picture.
New York: Several US lawmakers have proposed revisions to visa laws to include measures allowing former employees to contest their layoffs after a number of American workers lost their jobs to immigrants from countries like India on H-1B and other work visas, a media report said on Sunday.

The New York Times report said that while corporate executives have been outspoken in defending their labour practices, the American workers who lost jobs to global outsourcing companies have been largely silent.

“Until recently. Now some of the workers who were displaced are starting to speak out, despite severance agreements prohibiting them from criticising their former employers,” the report said.

It cited the example of former Abbott Laboratories employee Marco Pena, who was among about 150 technology workers laid off in April by the global healthcare conglomerate.

Mr Pena and the other laid off employees “handed in their badges and computer passwords, and turned over their work to a company based in India”.

Mr Pena said he had decided not to sign the agreement that was given to all departing employees, which included a nondisparagement clause. He said his choice cost him at least $10,000 in severance pay.

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The report said leading members of the US Congress from both major parties have questioned the non-disparagement agreements, which are commonly used by corporations but can prohibit ousted workers from raising complaints about what they see as a misuse of temporary visas.

Lawmakers, including Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-highest-ranking Senate Democrat, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, have proposed revisions to visa laws to include measures allowing former employees to contest their layoffs.

“I have heard from workers who are fearful of retaliation,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of
Connecticut, said in the report. “They are told they can say whatever they want, except they can’t say anything negative about being fired.”

Senator Durbin, who is from Illinois, criticised the layoffs and said Abbott’s non-disparagement clause was “overly broad”.

Professor Hal Salzman, a labour force expert at Rutgers University, said in the past five years, through loopholes in the rules, tens of thousands of American workers have been replaced by foreigners on H-1B and other temporary visas.

In March, two Americans Craig Diangelo, 63, and Judy Konopka, 56, laid off in 2014 by a New England power company – Eversource Energy, spoke at a news conference in Hartford even though they had signed non-disparagement agreements.

They said “most of the 220 people facing dismissal had been required as part of their severance to train Indian immigrants with H-1B and other visas”.

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