A New York Times report on Disney World Orlando replacing 250 tech employees with immigrant Indian staff has made front page news in India.
The employees — who managed Disney's vast data systems operation — were told in late October 2014 that they would be laid off. According to the report, many of their jobs were transferred to immigrants on temporary visas for highly skilled technical workers who were brought in by an outsourcing firm based in India. Over the next three months, some Disney employees were also required to train their replacements.
“I just couldn’t believe they could fly people in to sit at our desks and take over our jobs exactly,” one former worker, an American in his 40s who remains unemployed since his last day at Disney on Jan. 30, was quoted as saying. “It was so humiliating to train somebody else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it.”
The layoffs at Disney and at other U.S. companies, including the Southern California Edison power utility, have again questioned whether the temporary visas, known as H-1B, complement American workers or displace them. The H-1B visas have long been at the center of a fierce debate in Congress.
The H-1B visa issue has regularly figured in talks between the U.S. and India, given that Indian tech workers are the top recipients of the limited number of these high-demand visas. The issue was also discussed during President Obama's visit to India in January this year.
The current ceiling is 85,000 visas per year, a quota that is usually reached within days, given the demand for tech workers by both U.S. companies and the American subsidiaries of Indian tech companies. As a result, India has long been lobbying for an increase in the quota, among other issues, with the U.S. government. Moreover, U.S. tech giants like Microsoft, Facebook and Google have also pressed for increases in the quotas saying, “there are not enough Americans with the skills they need,” according to the New York Times report.
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But critics of the visas say they are used to bring in immigrants to do the work of Americans for less money. However, according to the report, Disney executives said that the layoffs were part of a reorganization, and that the company opened more positions than it eliminated.
“Disney has created almost 30,000 new jobs in the U.S. over the past decade,” Disney spokeswoman Kim Prunty was quoted stating, adding that the company expected its contractors to comply with all immigration laws.
HCL America, a branch of leading Indian tech company HCL, based in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, won the contract with Disney in 2012. The report quoted a company statement saying: “As a company, we work very closely with the U.S. Department of Labor and strictly adhere to all visa guidelines and requirements to be complied with.”
Following the New York Times report, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, a Democrat, called on Thursday for the Department of Homeland Security to investigate “potential misuses” of the H-1B visa program.
“This program was created to help fill jobs when there were labor shortages, not to take jobs away from anyone,” Nelson reportedly wrote in his request. When reached by the New York Times, a Disney spokesman said the company had no comment on the senator’s request.
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