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One more human resource challenge

Foreign workers, U.S. jobs a complicated mix

C. Jacques Dupas of Poplarville thinks that the U.S. may be “on a slippery slide to Third World status.”

“Thousands of H-1B and L-1 visas, and the out-sourcing of jobs to India, are causing a major loss of technical jobs in the United States,” said Dupas. “In the future, that loss of jobs will be a catastrophe that will cause the U.S. to be on a slippery slide to Third World status.”

Dupas is personally interested in the issue because he has a 57-year-old son in Houston, Texas, who is a design draftsman. After many years of experience and after finishing up a project approximately six months ago, he has been unable to get work. Dupas said it distresses him that while his son can’t find work, some engineering companies are bringing in workers from India, housing them at apartments, and paying them far less.

“He is sitting there looking for a job while these Indians are being imported and housed to do these technical jobs,” Dupas said. “I’m upset about that and would like to get something done.”

Concerns about foreign workers being imported to take jobs from Americans may be overblown, says Marty Robles, an associate with David Ware Associates, a firm specializing in immigration law, which has offices in Jackson, Louisiana and Florida. Ware said the U.S. Department of Labor requires employers to pay H-1B foreign workers the average wage paid to U.S. workers for a similar position in the region.

However, employers aren’t required to pay Social Security taxes for non-U.S. citizens, which can result in significant savings. Employers are required to pay 7.5% of a citizen employee’s salary in Social Security taxes.

The group called Rescue American Jobs (www.rescueamericanjobs) says the L-1 visa program, which allows companies to transfer employees from overseas branches or subsidiaries to company offices in the U.S., “are now routinely used by companies based in India and elsewhere to bring their workers into the United States and then contract them out to American companies — in many instances to be replacements for American workers.”

There is no prevailing wage requirement for L-1 visa workers. But Robles said the Department of Homeland Security is cracking down on abuses of the L-1 visa program.

Heath Hall, executive director of communications and affiliate services for the Mississippi Technology Alliance, said any job that is lost in Mississippi is a terrible loss. But particularly the state doesn’t want to lose the higher paying technical and information technology jobs.

Hall said one way to combat the threat of the loss of high-tech jobs is to focus on quality.

“Our emphasis should be placed on who can do the best job at the best price opposed to who can do it for the cheapest amount,” Hall said. “We, as an economy, must continue working to provide a well-qualified workforce at a good solid price. Employers and their customers demand the best and we have it in Mississippi.”

The shift of well-paid information technology jobs overseas has been referred to as a “mega-trend.” Wages in places like China, India and the Philippines can be as little as one-fourth to one-fifth of what is paid to similar workers in the U.S.

The Bush Administration has opposed legislation to restrict outsourcing of federal jobs to companies that employ foreign workers, arguing that baring the movement of technology jobs offshore would be bad for taxpayers because employing foreign workers saves money.

An unusual coalition of labor interests and conservative groups are opposing the loss of American jobs to foreign labor. But many employers offer a different take.

“There are so many industries that are lacking a sufficient number of employees,” said Robles, who works daily with businesses in the South helping them with immigration law. “Most are service industry or construction, more of the minimally-skilled labor kinds of jobs. Honestly, a lot of companies feel like without foreign laborers their businesses would essentially fail.

“For example, we have a client in Louisiana who pretty much shut down her construction firm for a while. She was unable to bid on any jobs because a number of her employees going through the labor certification process were arrested by the Department of Homeland Security.

“She was unable to operate her business because there aren’t enough U.S. workers willing to take these positions. We regularly get calls from people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who have a construction business or some type of landscaping business, for example, who want to find out how they can get employees legal status. They are great workers. You can’t find U.S. workers who will work as hard as these people.”

Obtaining a work visa for unskilled foreign workers can be difficult. Robles said there is a lengthy governmental process for unskilled laborers trying to obtain status to legally work in the U.S. But he said it is much easier for professionals to obtain a visa to work in the U.S.

Robles said the labor certification process is designed to make sure that employers have met certain advertising requirements to seek willing, qualified and able U.S. workers to fill those positions. If the employer establishes the inability to hire such workers who are U.S. residents or lawful permanent residents, then the U.S. Department of Labor can grant labor certification. Then applicants must then apply to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for residence. The process can take two years or longer.

Professionals, particularly nurses and doctors, have an easier road to obtaining visas to work in the U.S. There is a fairly large demand for nurses because of the nurse shortage. And there is demand for foreign physicians particularly in rural areas that have difficulty attracting doctors.

Robles said while they have had a number of clients who work in the

computer industry, primarily those seeking assistance with immigration are unskilled laborers such as construction workers and restaurant help, and health professionals such as doctors and nurses.

Unskilled workers such as housekeepers generally are considered unsuitable by the government to be allowed permanent residency on that basis alone. Robles said probably a lot of foreign workers employed as housekeepers are “out of status” or are in the process of obtaining residence on some other basis such as marriage to a U.S. citizen.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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