Last week, a California lawmaker lashed out at Southern California Edison over its plan to use H-1B visa workers  through outsourcing firms. The company is a public utility that serves parts of Southern California.
Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said emerging accounts of the company’s plans raise questions about whether the H-1B visa program was misused.
“Based on the information currently available, this appears to be an example of precisely what the H-1B visa is not intended to be: a program to simply replace American workers en masse with cheap labor from overseas,” Issa said in a statement. “Indeed, current law requires that an employer certify that the hiring of an H-1B applicant ‘will not adversely affect the working conditions of workers similarly employed,’ in keeping with the program’s intent of injecting new talent into the economy, rather than merely replacing current workers with lower paid counterparts.”
Issa called on the company to release more information about its process.
The time to file H-1B petitions is just around the corner at the beginning of April. H-1B temporary employment visas go to highly skilled foreign workers with skills, such as those in IT, that aren’t available in the US. These visas are always in demand.
Last year, the 85,000-visa cap on H-1B visas was reached in one week . US Citizenship and Immigration Services used a lottery to determine who would get a visa.
Experts also believe the cap will also be reached quickly this year.
Southern California Edison isn’t the first utility to come under fire in this manner. In 2013, Northeast Utilities in Connecticut received criticism for using H-1B workers through outsourcing firms.
While some criticize the use of H-1B workers, others say such workers are need to provide IT and other skills where not enough US workers exist.
Mark Roberts, CEO of the TechServe Alliance, notes there are differences in ways outsourcing companies use H-1B workers and staffing firms use H-1B workers. Outsourcing providers may take over an entire department; staffing firms typically provide H-1B workers to be part of a team to add both flexibility and skill sets.
What may have caught the ire of politicians in the utility’s case was the takeover of entire departments.
“You don’t hear a lot of complaints in terms of how staffing firms use H-1B,” Roberts said. They are not there to replace workers.
And there’s also a well-documented skills shortage in IT, Roberts said. Not making H-1B workers available would exacerbate that shortage and could be counterproductive and push more work offshore.
Efforts to increase the H-1B cap have met with bipartisan support, he said.
Congress is also currently considering legislation to raise the H-1B cap, including the “I-Squared Act .”