Southern California Edison, H-1B Visas Causing Angst Among IT Workers

7 Feb

What if your company decided to let you go and hire a foreign, temporary employee in your place, make you train him or her, and allow them to outsource higher wage jobs? Well that’s exactly what has happened at one of Southern California’s largest utility companies. The company, Southern California Edison, has been in the process of laying off nearly 500 IT employees since this past August with all layoffs being completed by the end of March. Those employees blame the H-1B Visa for their lost jobs.

For those unfamiliar the H-1B Visa it “allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.” IT is considered one of these specialty occupations thus leading to large layoffs at American companies, including Southern California Edison. The visa’s initial intent was to help companies fill positions that couldn’t be filled by American workers, whether it be for a special position or certain financial requirements. The current cap for H-1B visas is 65,000 with many more working under and exempt status that does not count against the cap. President Obama has even proposed doubling the cap.

Many have argued that the visa has led to lost American jobs instead of filling those that were previously unfilled. Southern California Edison is the prime example. Of the 500 expected layoffs, only about 100 have come as voluntary. The other 400 are being replaced by H-1B Visa workers, whom the laid off employee must train before their employment ends.

The SCE situation has drawn much attention and criticism from the IT community and those in government. Recently, Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has expressed strong criticism about the program. He has said:

“Apparently, Southern California Edison — a power company rooted in the United States of America — is converting, laying off, and terminating the employment of people who have been with them for a number of years. Southern California Edison is transitioning those positions to foreign employees who have come in under the H-1B visa program for the sole purpose of taking a job. They are not coming under the immigration policy where they would move from green card into permanent residence and into citizenship. They come solely for a limited period of time to take a job, and they work for less pay too often.”

“Here is a dramatic article in Computerworld about the big power company in California–Southern California Edison. What have they done recently? Information technology workers at Southern California Edison are being laid off and replaced by workers from India. Some employees are training their H-1B visa-holding replacements, and many have already lost their jobs. The employees are upset and they say they can’t understand how H-1B guest workers can be used to replace them since they are already doing the job now.”

SCE employees are certainly not happy either. Several employees were interviewed by Computerworld under the condition of anonymity. One employee expressed his frustration and confusion with the process:

“They are bringing in people with a couple of years’ experience to replace us and then we have to train them…It’s demoralizing and in a way I kind of felt betrayed by the company.”

Another expressed fury that the new employees are not coming in to fill jobs that aren’t already filled:

“Not one of these jobs being filled by India was a job that an Edison employee wasn’t already performing,”

There are certainly a lot of opinions floating around about SCE, the H-1B Visa, and IT worker’s job security these days. Many have fear for their own jobs, and wonder why foreign workers, often with less experience, are either being brought in or could possibly be brought in to fill their current position. Surely, there will continue to be widespread coverage and national attention to this issue going forward, especially if the U.S. Government agrees to raise the H-1B Visa cap.