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H-1B Spotlight Shines on a Distraction

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Reliant Energy in Houston is taking a lot of heat for bringing work under an outsourced IT contract back in-house, and hiring H-1B visa holders to help do the job. What's unfortunate about the outcry is that it's yet another needless distraction from the real issue of H-1B abuse.

 

Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau reported last week that Reliant had ended an outsourcing contract with Accenture, and submitted nine notices of intent with the Department of Labor to fill some of the positions on its new in-house team with H-1B workers:

Reliant hired H-1B visa holders mostly to fill software engineering jobs at its Houston facilities, according to DOL documents. Salaries for those jobs ranged from $72,000 to $95,000. The company also hired an H-1B visa holder as a database administrator at a salary of $80,000. A Reliant spokeswoman, Pat Hammond, said the H-1B employees hired by Reliant had previously been employed by the outsourcer under the canceled contract.

The brouhaha stems from the fact that Reliant in October received $20 million in federal stimulus funds for electric grid modernization projects. The contention is that since Reliant received federal stimulus money, it had no business hiring H-1B workers. That's nonsense, given the facts of the case, as reported by Computerworld:

Hammond said that Reliant hired a recruiting firm to help refill the internal positions. She added that many people were interviewed, but that the company had difficulty filling some jobs that required specialized knowledge.


'Some of the most qualified applicants were working for the outsourcing firm,' said Hammond, and thus were familiar with the company's systems. Some of these H-1B workers were hired to fill those slots. Hammond stressed that the company 'did interview a range of candidates for those positions.'


And, she added, the other 37 IT positions brought in-house were filled by local workers.


Hammond also noted that none of the new IT positions supported the project funded with federal stimulus funds.

So here we have a case in which a company made the business decision to include nine H-1B visa holders -- who were already working on the projects that were brought back in-house-among the 46 workers it hired for the team. The H-1B workers were paid the prevailing wage, and had demonstrated expertise in the specific projects in question. Why is that a problem? According to Computerworld:

Nonetheless, Kim Berry, president of the Summit, N.J.-based Programmers Guild, said that a goal of the stimulus program is to preserve and create jobs for U.S. workers. He said that companies accepting stimulus money are signing "a contract with the American taxpayer."


Berry argues that Reliant didn't say it couldn't find qualified Americans to fill the internal positions. 'What they are saying is the people already knew the job and that made them valuable,' he said. Hammond disputed Berry's claim and said the company is doing 'a thorough search for every one of the positions that we have.'

It's strange that Reliant was put in the position of having to defend itself for hiring nine H-1B workers who were already familiar with the job, and who therefore added value to the projects. That sounds like a prudent business decision to me. If my tax dollars are going into stimulus packages, I want the money spent by companies that know how to make smart decisions. If Reliant had taken the Accenture contract back in-house and then farmed the work out to some H-1B body shop that was paying workers below the prevailing wage, that would be an issue that would clearly warrant outrage and the focus of our attention.

 

No doubt, abuses of that very nature are rampant, and yet here we are getting up in arms over a case in which everybody did everything right. I wonder how many unprincipled H-1B body shop operators read the Computerworld story and laughed at the fact that once again, the spotlight was taken off of them and shined on a distraction.

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