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H-1B whistleblower Théo Negri on how lottery, salaries are gamed by TCS, Infosys, Cognizant

What does a coder do when his H1B application is swept away by a giant wave of 150000 applications from wealthy outsourcing corporations?

He picks the lock.

Meet Théo Negri, techie from France who's now on the celeb circuit for H1B soundbites via the world’s leading rags and online think tankery.

“My application wasn’t rejected! I didn’t stand a chance in the first place because these outsourcing companies flood the system with thousands of applications!” exclaims Théo relating how he began to expose the ills of the H1B lottery system.

Link: Thèo Negri speaks to Firstpost on the H1B

Théo came to the US on a visitor visa and winged back to France when his H1B application got a bloody nose at the USCIS front door.

Screenshot from FB Live broadcast

Screenshot from FB Live broadcast

Licking his wounds, he rummaged in public domain documents that companies file with the Department of Labor called Labour Condition Application or LCA and came up with startling findings both on the number of applications and the pay grade on offer. Between 2012 and 2015, three Indian companies TCS, Wipro and Infosys alone submitted over 150,000 visa applications for jobs with a median salary of $69,500. In those same years, US headquartered giants —Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft —submitted just over 30,000 applications and the median salary hovered around $117,000. Here, you will find a ready reckoner of  H1B salaries and corresponding job titles cobbled together by Théo. For example, if you want to see how many applications Infosys accounted for over the years, this chart says it all.

According to Théo’s data, in 2015 alone, TCS shovelled in 34,199 applications while Wipro and Infosys combined logged about 30,000. What about applicants like Théo? Nope, wrong number.

To put this in context, the lottery is not India’s idea, it is America’s and Indian companies are not breaking the rules by applying by the cartload - they apply because the lottery system by definition is a huge gamble and the cost of applying for thousands more visas than needed is built into their business model.

At this first outpost, those who suffer are the lone rangers who apply on need basis - it’s them versus say, 100,000 applications in a roulette.

It wasn’t always this way - first there was no lottery; it grew out of the same powers which may end up killing it - the deluge of applications which submerged the USCIS in 2007 and 2008 breaching the 65000 cap in 48 hours flat.

After being a staple of the whisper circuit the last decade, ‘gaming the H1B’ has become prime time fodder for the ‘America First’ club in Trump-led USA. Now, the White House has jumped in too, naming TCS, Infosys and Cognizant in its briefing on reforming the H1B.

Indian IT industry’s umbrella organisation Nasscom swung into vigorous defence of its members TCS and Infosys with its own set of numbers - “Nasscom would like to clarify on the statements made by the White House on Indian companies getting the lion’s share of H1B visas and highlight that in 2014-15, only six of the top 20 H1B recipients were Indian companies. TCS and Infosys together received 7,504 approved H1B visas in 2014-15, which is only 8.8% of the total approved H1B visas,” Nasscom said.

“They’re saying they got only 8%! You’ve got to be kidding me,” Théo exclaims on hearing the numbers quoted by Nasscom.

“Eight percent of 65,000 visas to just 2 companies in a lottery - is that fair?”, he asks.

Eight percent of 65000 works out to 5,200 visas.

“In what world should a company that produces nothing—they’re just consulting companies—be able to get that many visas? It’s not like they are Google or Facebook—companies that actually make real products,” Théo has said often and that is now resonating in America’s highest office.

Professor Ronil Hira of Howard University in Washington D.C - one of the iconic majority black colleges in the US - has come up with these data: In 2014, the top 20 companies gobbled up about 40 percent of total visas which means about 32,000 and 10,000 other employers received far fewer visas each. Dwell on the number of employers for just a moment more: 20 employers get more visas than 10,000 others.

Nearly 50% of all applications in 2014 were rejected outright because the 65ooo quota was breached already - blink and it’s gone. Applying even 2 days after the gates open is too late.

In a testimony before a Senate hearing on the “impact of high skilled immigration on US workers”, Hira hammers home the same points that the White House is now taking a meat cleaver to:

“Firms that rely mostly on H-1Bs are able to generate net profit margins of 20-25% in a sector, Information Technology (IT) Services, where we would expect profit margins of 6-8%. Exploitation of the H-1B and L-1 visa programs has completely disrupted the IT Services sector. Employers that hire American workers are put at a competitive disadvantage solely because of the loopholes in the H-1B and L-1 programs allowing employers to pay guest workers less. The leading H-1B employers, shown in Table 1, pay their H-1B workers far below the average wages in information technology. Cognizant and HCL brought in H-1B workers to replace the American workers at Disney. Cognizant pays its H-1B workers a median salary of $61,131 and HCL pays its H-1B workers a median salary of $67,300. The Disney workers were being paid about $100,000 per year plus generous benefits. Those H-1B workers are being paid 33-39% less than the Disney workers.”

On home turf, the complaint is that the H1B is working for large outsourcing assembly lines and failing many American employers who cannot get visas for foreigners with the special skills they need and are not interested or don’t have the business model to game the lottery.

For the H1B worker at the mercy of the employer, this elaborate dance often ends up badly - with sad sack paychecks. “They (USCIS) must be stirct about job titles. Often companies trying to drive down wages find a fancy job title that does not exist in the state playbook and therefore they are not bound to pay the median wage. Monitoring 65,000 visas is possible, it will improve the system,” says Théo.

Updated Date: Apr 26, 2017 09:14 AM

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