Another tech giant that says it must import foreign workers because there aren’t enough skilled American workers in the industry is laying off thousands of workers.
Qualcomm — a major producer of smartphone chips – announced last week it’s eliminating 15 percent of its workforce or about 4,500 employees, just weeks after fellow tech giant Microsoft announced a massive round of layoffs.
Both companies are top beneficiaries of the H-1b visa program, which backers say allows companies to temporarily hire foreign workers for jobs they can’t find qualified Americans workers to fill. Critics contend the program is really used to cut costs.
Microsoft and Qualcomm were in the top 15 users of H-1b visas in Fiscal Year 2013, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data obtained by Computer World. They’re part of a major tech lobbying effort to increase the cap on these temporary workers, on the grounds there is a shortage of Americans with science, technology, engineering, and math degrees.
“Qualcomm has been engaged within the technology industry in highlighting the ‘skills deficit’ in all areas of today’s workforce, especially engineering,” a spokeswoman for Qualcomm told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “This is an industry-wide problem, and we are committed to working to build the pipeline of students studying STEM fields.”
One in five of the new Qualcomm hires in Fiscal Year 2013 were foreign workers with H-1b visas, according to an analysis of SEC filings by Ron Hira, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology who is an expert in offshoring. Those 900 foreign workers hired in 2013 triple the total number of workers Qualcomm hired in 2014.
“Qualcomm and other tech firms have argued that they turn to H-1Bs because there is a significant shortage of American talent available,” Hira told TheDCNF. “Given the recent large layoff announcements by Qualcomm, Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco, how can the tech industry continue to argue there’s a shortage of American workers?”
Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hira also analyzed the skills of H-1b workers Qualcomm hired from Fiscal Year 2010 through 2012, and found most of the workers weren’t the highly skilled, U.S.-trained workers lobbyists imply make up the majority of H-1b holders.
Thirty-five percent of the 1,265 workers Qualcomm hired at that time held only a bachelor’s degree, and just 32 percent held advanced U.S. degrees. Only 44 of them held Ph.Ds from U.S. universities.
“This is very different than the carefully constructed, and misleading, narrative constructed by the tech industry that the H-1b program is primarily a vehicle for keeping people from abroad that the U.S. trained, and paid for,” Hira told The DCNF.
The Qualcomm layoffs, which it says are in response to dramatic profit losses, will eliminate the net employment gains of the past two years. A spokeswoman for Qualcomm declined to provide further detail on the layoffs or the fate of Qualcomm’s H-1b employees, beyond the 15 percent figure.
But Qualcomm said it plans to “significantly reduce its temporary workforce,” in a presentation detailing the restructuring.
“Obviously some of the ones being laid off are not engineers, but in general I’m sure that a lot of the people laid off could be doing the jobs taken by the H-1bs,” Norm Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California Davis who is an expert on H-1bs, told TheDCNF.
The Department of Homeland Security is working with the Department of Labor to investigate the H-1b program after Southern California and then Disney, among others, allegedly laid off hundreds of American workers and essentially forced them to train their foreign replacements holding H-1b visas.
It’s a violation of federal labor laws to fire an American worker and directly replace them with a foreign worker holding an H-1b, but companies such as SCE and Disney have apparently gotten around this by contracting the work out to H-1b reliant firms, such as Infosys and Tata.
Critics of the program, including a bipartisan group of senators, see the layoffs as evidence the companies are using the visas to cut costs, not legitimately fill in gaps in the American labor force.
Seventy-four percent of Americans with STEM degrees are not working in STEM fields, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, and only 3.8 million Americans with STEM degrees hold STEM jobs.
“The entire industry abuses this visa, and I’m sure that includes Qualcomm,” Matloff told TheDCNF. “I’ve done research that shows statistics on how much the industry pays it’s H-1b [workers], and Qualcomm is definitely one of the ones that does not have a good record in that regard.”