Disney H-1B Scandal in Spotlight Again: Meet The American Workers Whose Jobs and Careers Were Destroyed by the H-1B Program

Two courageous Disney workers were interviewed yesterday on a local television news program in Sarasota, Florida. In the interview, they describe what it was like to train their foreign replacements: “Like when a guillotine falls down on you.” It’s hard to overestimate how many Americans’ livelihoods have been damaged by the H-1B visa guestworker program, which allows employers to hire about 130,000 new college-educated foreign workers every year for up to six years at a time.

The Disney H-1B scandal broke into the national spotlight when the New York Times covered it in June. This news came in the wake of LA Times reporting that Southern California Edison was replacing hundreds of American workers with H-1B guestworkers. These two cases are only the tip of the iceberg. Employers looking to cut costs have replaced, substituted, and overlooked American workers for hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the U.S. government has facilitated the suppression of their wages for decades through its management of H-1B guestworker program.

In response to the Edison story, 10 U.S. Senators spanning the ideological spectrum (from Bernie Sanders to James Inhofe), wrote to the Obama administration asking for an investigation. After investigating, the Obama Administration let one of the companies, Infosys, off the hook, claiming that the law allowed Infosys to replace those American workers with H-1B guestworkers, who were paid tens of thousands of dollars less to do the same jobs.

The Obama administration has been very aggressive in its interpretation about the executive branch’s authority over immigration rules. But when it comes to ensuring that American workers impacted by the visa program are treated fairly, President Obama has decided to look the other way. If the Obama Administration feels its hands are tied by the law, it should push Congress hard to reform the programs. Instead, they have done nothing.

Instead of diligently working to find a solution to this widespread H-1B visa abuse, Obama’s DHS team has been working overtime to create a new, large guestworker program that allows employers to easily exploit and underpay (or not pay) foreign students who can work for them for up to 3 years; this is known as Optional Practical Training or “OPT.” The updated OPT program the president is proposing will mean even more lost jobs and wages for American workers. Especially hard hit will be recent college graduates who invested years and tens of thousands of dollars to obtain degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, but are faring terribly in this economy under the dual weight of a dismal job market and mountainous student debts.

Through its actions the Obama administration is effectively inviting employers to pad their profits by replacing their American workers with cheaper H-1B guestworkers. Bob Iger, CEO of Disney and a big financial supporter to the Obama campaign, is laughing all the way to the bank at the expense of his American workers. Mr. Iger is a leader in the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group advocating for more H-1Bs by claiming that there’s a shortage of American talent.

Hopefully the H-1B issue will be raised in tonight’s GOP presidential debate. The Disney scandal is taking place in Florida, home to two of the candidates, Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Jeb Bush. Both candidates have proposed to expand the H-1B program without fixing any of the program’s flaws, which allow American workers to be overlooked for jobs or replaced by cheaper temporary workers. Donald Trump (of all people), the front-runner for several months, will be the only candidate on the stage tonight who has proposed sensible ways to fix the H-1B program: he has proposed that American workers have a first shot at job openings and would prevent employers from using the H-1B as a cheap labor program.