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Online Outrage

Anita Bora | June 23, 2003 13:24 IST

American citizens use the Web to protest against outsourcing and non-immigrant visas

 

Outsourcing and non-immigrant visas seem to be sore topics for Americans right now. More than a dozen sites have sprung up to protest against the practice of outsourcing IT jobs to India and employing Indian professionals for software jobs in the US by issuing the H-1B and the L1 visa. In fact, the protests have grown quite vociferous online.

 

James Pace (vice-president and chairman) and John Bauman (president and vice chairman) began The Organization for the Rights of American Workers (TORAW) in November 2002. After building the site, they sent out email invites, researched data, created literature and held their first public awareness presentation in December 2002.

 

Michael T Emmons who had 12 weeks left at Siemens (ICN Lake Mary, Florida) in September 2002 (according to their replacement program) decided to stand up and be heard. Americans were mandated to train foreign replacement workers. "I did not think it was fair," says Emmons. He took up the cause with the Florida Representative John L Mica and when he did not get a response, Emmons documented the communication and put it up on this site.

Richard Armstrong, president of The National Hire American Citizens Professional Society launched the site about three years ago, when he noticed that his clients were asking him to train foreign workers. "I once trained 5 H-1B workers to perform the same exact duties I was responsible for performing," he says.

 

The mission of these sites: To gather support for the abolishment of the H-1B visa and all non-immigrant visas (NIV) by bringing it to the attention of leaders, decision makers and US citizens. The Web has proved effective not only to spread the word but also to get more people to sign online petitions that are then forwarded to the legislators concerned and decision makers.

 

The word has spread mainly through message boards, says Emmons. In fact, a search for 'Tata Siemens' now returns his site as the first result. The administrator of zazona.com says he started the protest site in 1999 when H-1B was "adversely affecting" his career. Using method like getting press coverage, registering with search engines, site optimisation, email and word-of-mouth campaigns, he spread the word and traffic has increased significantly to his site.


Initially, Armstrong spent time on the Usenet groups, posted to various newsgroups and then started writing articles on the topic, submitting it to sites like American Reformation, vdare.com and Sierra Times
 

There's more. "We are here to save American jobs. We are not racists, xenophobes or bigots. We are displaced American workers. Displaced by a little known immigration visa approved by congress at the request of a large US corporations. These visas known as H-1B and L1 are used to import foreign workers to replace American workers with cheap foreign labor," claims h1bprotest.com.

 

h1bvisasucks.com suggests solutions to the H-1B visa, including sending emails in support of a New Jersey Assembly bill to stop outsourcing and starting an IT market war. "Where have all the good jobs gone?" asks nomoreh1b.com, claiming that approximately 800,000 highly skilled US workers are now unemployed as a direct result of the Congress H-1B visa legislation.

 

Hireamericancitizens.org is not mincing its words. It has been set up for the "protection and promotion of the American Citizen professional, the best, the brightest, and the most innovative workers in the world". The site also provides counter arguments to the practice of issuing H-1B visas.

 

Statistics reveal that outsourcing remains a popular choice. According to an IDC study conducted this year, fewer than 15 per cent of US IT firms are opposed to using offshore workers, 20 per cent prefer to use US resources, and about 65 per cent are open to using resources outside the US.

 

An official from a leading Indian business process outsourcing operation says that these protests are not going to make a serious impact. He feels this issue is "more political in nature and does not affect the private sector". He goes on to say the industry in India has only touched the tip of the iceberg and the scope is tremendous.

 

PV Kannan, CEO of Bangalore-based call centre, 24/7 Customer, is of the opinion that in the long term these protests will have "no significant impact to the fundamental value proposition of offshoring".

 

Protests from the work force of companies who outsource and elected legislators is expected, says Kannan. "After all we are talking about a fundamental shift for people in the US/UK. But as in the case of IT, their fears are overblown."

 

A very small percentage of jobs, according to Kannan, is going offshore. Also, most companies take their employees into confidence regarding outsourcing and their reasons. "One of our UK clients took their union into confidence and told them no more than 20 per cent of the positions would be outsourced," he shares.

 

B G Mahesh of bpoindia.org, a leading information source on the Indian outsourcing industry, adds: "I think it is difficult to stop offshore work. However, these sites will have an impact on the visas (H-1B) issued."

 

O J Audet, senior program manager, in the help desk division of a US BPO, currently assisting with the growth of its Chennai subsidiary, says that Americans are losing jobs to outsourcing. "But I don't believe Americans (or others) are justified in claiming the jobs as "theirs".  Anyone in the BPO space knows that the market is global, a function of growing telephony sophistication and the Net." Also, according to Audet, most Americans understand that outsourcing goes beyond India to currently include the Philippines, Ireland and Mexico.

 

The feedback to these sites from the public is also divided.

 

Emmons, who feels that the L1 visa will be changed in 2003, because of all the pressure that they are exerting, is trying to get more exposure for his campaign through 60 Minutes, Dateline, Evening News and Fox News. With increasing publicity, Emmons admits to getting hate and virus mail. "I never reply. I just delete it," he says.


Armstrong says they have received over 15,000 emails most of which have been quite positive, but there are those who do not agree. "We do get those emails. It is usually over a misunderstanding of what we are all about. We just want our jobs back. We have a right to work in our own country and not be replaced with temporary cheaper foreign labour." 

 

Traffic to zazona.com also continues to increase and the administrator says he gets as much inputs from H-1B visa holders about their concerns as US workers. "The majority of H-1B visa holders do not like what I'm doing but some realise what I'm saying. There are also few diehard trade globalists that don't agree."

 

Membership to TORAW has grown with exposure in the media. "We've received a huge response. In six months out membership has grown in 16 states and we've been interviewed by several newspapers, radio stations and cable channels," shares Pace.

 

TORAW hold regular public awareness meetings and says they usually have support when they explain the facts. "We don't want NIVs of any country to become targets of hatred. We want US corporations to be held responsible for unjust labour laws and practice resulting in high unemployment," reiterates Pace.

 

In addition to the Internet campaigns, Pace informs that they hold regular meetings, participate in protest meets and hand out printed literature. Emmons too is planning an offline campaign to support his online efforts. Armstrong says they have formed a coalition with other national immigration reform organisations including Citizens Lobby and American Reformation Project with a combined member base of nearly 100,000 American citizens.The coalition is collecting online petitions and letters from citizens to be delivered to Congress in the coming months, besides planning other grass-roots activities. 

 

Discussion boards like slashdot.org have heated debates adding to the fire. "As opposed to the previous commentors, I see nothing wrong about this trend. Typically, people that b***h about globalisation are the ones losing jobs because they are too expensive relative to the global market price for their particular skill," a reader writes in response to this article.

 

Another reader counters, "As an IT developer whose job is threatened by such a move, I must whole-heartedly disagree. The companies offshoring these jobs seem to forget that for majority of their products their target market is the middle class."

 

Techsuntite.org is another forum that is organising emails to be sent in support of the New Jersey bill. The site claims their Web action generated nearly 150,000 total messages to 120 NJ legislators and one assembly representative, Gary Guear, reports that the online campaign set a one-day record for the number of emails received by his office.

 

This petition goes a step further. They are asking leaders and decision maker to stop not only H-1B visas, but all kinds of immigration.

 

Kannan feels that these protests are not justified, "Given the job creation ability of these economies, it is sad they do not see the advantage of having countries like India develop and move to the next level. The fact of the matter is: India has less than 4 per cent of the combined GDP of US/UK and three times the population."

 

"I think the petitioners will have a minimal effect on the Indian market.  I believe smart Indian business-persons are entrenched in the American market and their savvy "lobbying" will counterbalance the nay sayers," expresses Audet.

 

Ends Mahesh, on an optimistic note, "American understand numbers very well. At the end of the day they want to see good numbers on the balance sheet. So I doubt these sites will have an adverse effect on outsourcing." Pace, Emmons and all those others who are working overtime to gather support on their online and offline campaigns will obviously disagree.


Additional Resources:

-- Outsourcing and India

-- BPO India

-- H-1B Visa

-- L1 Visa

 



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