Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg made a big splash last month when he launched Fwd.us, a pro-immigration reform organization. The young tycoon pulled together a rock star list of silicon valley elites to “”continue to promote innovation and meet our workforce needs.” The group’s current raison d’etre is to ensure that the immigration bill provides tech companies with enough visas for foreign workers to fill jobs they say can’t fill with U.S. workers.
But as might be expected from an outfit whose members include a number of the country’s most successful businessmen from across the political spectrum, Zuckerberg’s new outfit may have some rather sinister motivations. Fwd.us appears most interested in securing tech companies’ access to lower-paid foreign workers.
The Gang of Eight immigration bill is set to expand visas for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, so called STEM jobs and Zuckerberg’s is jumping into the fray to lobby for fewer strings attached to hiring foreign workers.
As FWD.us promotes high-minded ideals of openness and opportunity, Facebook’s lobbying firms have been doing the dirty work of making sure immigration reform means they can freely hire high-skilled immigrants for less money than their American counterparts. Specifically, Facebook has been trying to insert language into the Senate immigration bill to eliminate a requirement that American companies make a “good faith” effort to hire Americans before looking abroad, according to the Washington Post. And Facebook wants to axe rules that would require companies to pay these foreign workers more.
Facebook and other advocates for more so-called high skilled visas—the H1B and L-1 visas—argue that their companies suffer because there simply aren’t enough U.S. workers with the right skills to fill jobs. Indeed, there’s been far more demand for these visas in recent years than there are visas available.
But there’s also new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, that finds that the U.S. actually has enough tech workers to fill jobs here. If that’s the case then why do companies like Facebook want so many easily accessible guest workers? According to EPI and others, it’s because firms can pay these workers less than they can pay U.S. workers for the same jobs.
“The bottom line is that these visas can be used for cheaper indentured work,” says Ron Hira, a Public Policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology who’s contributed to EPI analysis. Hira says that because companies control the H1-B and L-1 visas of their employees, workers are regularly exploited and subjected to terrible working conditions, under-paid and sometimes left without any work at all once they are arrive in the country.
Recently, a group of 350 teachers in Louisiana who were in the country on H1-B visas—the same kind Zuckerberg wants more of with fewer regulations—won a $4.5 million settlement after they were forced to pay illegal and exorbitant fees and subjected to workplace abuses by the contractor that brought them to the U.S. to teach.
While the current Senate bill does raise the wage floor for the H1-B visa program, it does not significantly extend Department of Labor oversight over wage and hour violations and critics say it leaves workers vulnerable to exploitation.