SHORTCUT TO U.S. JOBS
SINCE THE IMMIGRATION LAWS WERE CHANGED IN 1990, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF
FOREIGN WORKERS HAVE BEEN RECRUITED - UNDER SPECIAL PROGRAMS - FOR JOBS IN
AMERICA. EMPLOYERS SAID THERE WERE NO QUALIFIED AMERICANS AVAILABLE.
THE INFLUX IS CONTRIBUTING TO A LABOR GLUT, HOLDING DOWN WAGES.
By Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS
Auto mechanic for a service station in Alexandria, Va.; pays $17.57 an hour. Accountant for an investment firm in Wilmington; pays $40,000 a year. Carpet layer for a rug company in Laurel, Md., $16.40 an hour. Pharmacist for a drugstore in Huntington, W. Va.; pays $55,000. Software engineer for a phone company in Murray Hill, N.J.; pays $45,700. Manager of a savings and loan in York, Pa.; pays $25,000.
Don't feel especially qualified for any of those openings? Well, then, how about one of these:
Supervisor for a cab company in Philadelphia; pays $21,000. Cook at a pizza shop in Wayne, Pa.; pays $10.71 an hour. Management trainee at a hotel in Arlington, Va.; pays $22,685. Programmer analyst at a pharmaceutical firm, Collegeville, Pa.; pays $37,000. Household worker in a private home, Wallingford, Pa.; $9.20 an hour. Veterinary technician at an animal clinic in New Hope, Pa.; $10 an hour.
Any of those jobs appeal to you?
Do you think someone, somewhere in America is capable of handling one of them?
The U.S. government doesn't think so.
It approved applications filed by businesses so they could hire foreign workers to fill those and other jobs. The businesses claimed - and the government agreed - that no qualified Americans could be found where the jobs were located.
At a time when countless Americans have lost their jobs due to imports and corporate layoffs, U.S. companies have been recruiting tens of thousands of workers from around the world. All with the blessing of Congress.
As a result, too many workers are chasing too few good jobs. This, in turn, has helped force down wages in many fields, held increases to a minimum in others, and contributed to the overall decline in the standard of living for many middle-class families.
The recruiting of foreign workers goes beyond businesses. Individuals - largely the affluent - also bring in foreign nationals to perform household and child-care tasks that they say no American is willing to do for the wages offered.
In each case, the businesses or individuals have filed applications with the U.S. Department of Labor saying they need to hire foreign workers because "there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified and available at the place where the alien is to perform the skilled or unskilled labor."
The Labor Department is required - by law - essentially to rubber-stamp the applications if the paperwork is in order and several general requirements have been fulfilled.
In effect, these employers are providing a shortcut to U.S. citizenship. With the labor certification in hand, the foreign national can file a petition with the Immigration and Naturalization Service for permanent residency, and eventual citizenship. So far in the 1990s, more than 90 percent of such petitions have been approved.
Who are some of these businesses and individuals, and what are the jobs they said they couldn't find qualified Americans to do?
Here's a sampling from Labor Department records for 1995:
- Cristophe in Washington, D.C., whose owner, Cristophe Schatteman, has styled the hair of Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Clinton. You may recall, it was Cristophe who cut Clinton's hair while Air Force One sat on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport in May 1993. Cristophe received permission in March 1995 to employ a foreign worker as a hair stylist. Pay:
$5.25 an hour.
- American Red Cross of Rockville, Md., headed by Elizabeth Dole, wife of Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole. She is now on leave, campaigning with her husband. In July 1995, while she was president, the Red Cross received permission to hire a foreign national to work as a biologist. Pay: $14.90 an hour.
- Perot Systems Corp. of Reston, Va., the computer consulting company started in 1988 by Ross Perot, the Reform Party presidential candidate. Perot and his son, Ross Perot Jr., are on the board of directors; Perot Sr. has had no day-to-day role in the management of the company since June 1992, when he first sought the presidency, the company says. Perot Systems Corp. received permission in October 1995 to hire a foreign worker as a systems analyst. Pay: $53,000.
- Angela M. "Bay" Buchanan of Oakton, Va., sister of erstwhile Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. She received permission in December 1995 to hire a foreign worker to be a tutor for her children. Pay: $13.54 an hour.
- Richard Ben-Veniste, a Washington lawyer who was a member of the Watergate prosecution team that forced President Richard Nixon from office. He also was the Democratic counsel on the Senate Whitewater Committee that investigated President Clinton's role in real estate and banking deals in Arkansas. Ben-Veniste received permission in December 1995 to hire a foreign national as a house worker. Pay: $9.11 an hour.
The Permanent Labor Certification Program under which these foreign workers were employed is one of several government programs that keep a supply of foreign labor moving into the United States. From 1990 through 1995:
- Nearly 600,000 foreign workers were admitted under the Permanent Labor Certification Program. They filled jobs ranging from cooks in fast-food restaurants to store managers, from bookkeepers to computer systems analysts. All were immigrants entitled to become U.S. citizens.
- More than 225,000 visas were granted to foreign workers to fill so-called specialty occupations under the H-1B program. These jobs ranged from restaurant manager to financial analyst, from piano teacher to assistant professor. The workers were limited to a maximum stay of six years. Many stayed permanently.
- About 1.1 million visas were issued to foreign workers to fill short-term positions, in such fields as computer software engineering. They are aliens - citizens of another country - and by law are allowed to remain here only six months, working for foreign companies. Again, many stayed permanently.
- Nearly 35,000 visas were issued to foreign registered nurses. This at a time when nurses are having trouble finding permanent jobs, as hospitals trim their staffs under managed care.
- More than 1 million visas were issued to foreign students. While many completed their education and returned home, others stayed and went to work here.
The foreign-worker programs are just one small part of the story of the impact of immigration - and the globalization of work - on American jobs.
The bigger picture is this: Legal immigrants are entering the United States in the 1990s at an annual rate higher than in any decade in American history - in even greater numbers than those who washed over Ellis Island at the turn of the century.
From 1990 - when Congress revised the nation's immigration laws - through 1995, they arrived at a rate of 1.1 million a year. That's nearly 1 1/2 times the record 820,000 immigrants a year set in the first decade of this century.
More immigrants arrived in the 16 years from 1980 through 1995 - 13.1 million - than in the entire half-century before that, from 1930 to 1979 - 11.6 million.
Thus far in the 1990s, immigration is running three times greater than in the decade of the 1890s; five times greater than in the good-times decade of the 1950s, and 17 times greater than in the hard-times decade of the 1930s.
And that's legal immigration - it has nothing to do with the tens of thousands of people who cross the borders illegally every year.
What all these numbers - permanent immigrants and alien workers here under jobs programs - add up to is this:
Since 1990, at least 6 million foreign workers have been thrown into the competition for U.S. jobs. That includes immigrants who applied on their own, without the help of any of these special federal programs. No other developed country in the world has asked its labor force to absorb so large a number of new workers.
Or to put it in another context: The number of alien and immigrant workers exceeds the number of out-of-work Americans in 46 of the 50 states.
Thanks to a combination of U.S. government policies - the world's most generous immigration rules and the world's most open-ended trade policies - the people in Washington have created a huge labor surplus.
It has been good for corporations and Wall Street - and bad for working Americans.
In fact, in a little-noted report issued in May 1996 by the Inspector General's Office of the Labor Department, investigators evaluating the Permanent Labor Certification Program concluded:
"The program does not currently protect U.S. workers' jobs; instead, it allows aliens to immigrate based on their attachment to a specific job and then shop their services in competition with equally or more qualified U.S. workers without regard to prevailing wage."
This is not to suggest that the United States should close its borders, or that by halting immigration the living standard of middle-class America would improve overnight. It is to suggest that what is lacking in Washington is moderation - a balance between the nation's historic tolerance of newcomers and the need to protect the interests of its own citizens.
Many of the jobs for which foreigners were recruited are in technical fields - part of that high-tech future that was supposed to provide good jobs for Americans in the post-industrial economy. But a lot of them aren't high-tech at all.
Cristophe's, for example.
On his application for permanent labor certification, the hair stylist said he needed someone who would be able to "apply up-do and other French hair-styling techniques" and to "study facial features of client and arrange, shape and trim hair to achieve desired effect, using fingers, combs, scissors, hair-waving solutions, hairpins, and other accessories."
The job paid $5.25 an hour, plus 50 percent commission for revenue generated in excess of $360 a week. A survey in 1994 showed that Cristophe charged women $250 and men $150 for his own services.
After Cristophe said that no qualified Americans were available - and the Labor Department agreed, as required by law - the salon received permission in March 1995 to hire a woman who was a French citizen.
According to documents filed with the Labor Department, she was in this country on an exchange visa, meaning that she was not entitled to permanent residency or U.S. citizenship. That status, however, would change if the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) approved her petition.
Ross Perot's company, on the other hand, is very high-tech. Perot Systems, a computer consulting firm, requested permission to hire a foreign worker as a computer systems analyst.
The company said that the special requirements for the job included: "Exp. in C/C++, UNIX, Novel Network, ORACLE case tools, ORACLE FORMS & other tools, Informix database & development tools . . ."
The foreign national the company was seeking to hire just happened to have precisely the same qualifications: "Exp. in C/C++, UNIX, Novel Network, ORACLE case tools, ORACLE FORMS & other tools, Informix database & development tools. . . ."
Perot Systems advised the Labor Department that as a result of recruitment efforts, including a help-wanted ad in the Washington Times, four Americans applied for the job, but "we concluded that they are not qualified for the position."
In October 1995, the company received approval to hire a citizen of India who was in the country on an H-1B visa. That's a temporary work visa, meaning the person holding it is not entitled to remain in the United States permanently or to become a citizen. That situation would change under the Permanent Labor Certification Program.
Pat Buchanan's sister, Angela, was seeking a tutor for her three children. She cited a busy career, and said she'd been unable to find anyone qualified locally.
When President Ronald Reagan named her U.S. Treasurer in 1981, Angela Buchanan was the youngest person, at 32, ever to hold that post. She managed her brother's campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in 1996.
During the campaign, Pat Buchanan called for a moratorium on legal immigration. While he lost the bid, parts of the party platform reflected his views and those of his sister.
Angela Buchanan requested permission in October 1994 to hire a "professional tutor," explaining the need this way:
"As a single mom with a busy career which involves considerable traveling, I require professional assistance to see to the educational progress and success of my children. . . . The position I am seeking to fill does not involve everyday care of the boys or housekeeping and is not live-in; this is strictly an educational position. . . . In general, I desire approximately six hours of tutoring each school day. Each boy should receive about two hours of concentrated attention from the tutor each day."
Buchanan added that the "position requires a professional with strong academic background and experience" and that "I have been unable to find a qualified U.S. worker willing and able to perform these duties."
In December 1995, she received permission to hire a native of Finland at $13.54 an hour. Labor Department records show that the woman who was hired was in the United States on a B-2 visa, which is issued to temporary visitors to this country. Indeed, in an affidavit, Buchanan said she met the prospective tutor when the woman was on "a trip to the United States to visit her sister."
When the Labor Department authorized Buchanan to hire the Finn, that qualified the woman for permanent residency, pending final INS approval.
Angela Buchanan did not answer a request for an interview.
Elizabeth Dole's organization, the American Red Cross, sought a research assistant to work in its blood-research laboratory in Rockville, Md.
According to the Red Cross' application for alien employment certification, the job required someone who could "perform research in blood coagulation proteins to steady the molecular basis of hemophilia A . . . perform tests on blood from individuals with hemophilia." Among the requirements: "Must be willing to work with contagious diseases including hepatitis & AIDS. . . ."
Again, no qualified American workers were available. In the application, the Red Cross personnel manager stated:
"I have spoken to employees and business associates, placed an advertisement in the newspaper, and posted a job notice, but I have been unable to find a citizen or legally employable alien to fill this position."
The Labor Department authorized the Red Cross in July 1995 to hire a citizen of India who just happened to have precisely the same skills the agency was looking for: "ability to use . . . gel electrophoresis, immuno & electroblotting equipment . . ."
The Indian native, like the foreign national hired by Perot Systems, was in this country on an H-1B visa, meaning he could work here temporarily but was not permitted to remain in the United States permanently or to become a citizen.
In the case of Richard Ben-Veniste, he was looking for someone to do housework. His application of November 1995 described the job opening this way:
"General housework, including laundry and ironing of clothes, dust, vacuum, clean baths and light outdoor cleaning. Perform marketing and cooking, and help with child care and employers' personal and business entertaining." The job paid $9.11 an hour.
Once more, no Americans were available. In a letter to the Labor Department, an attorney representing Ben-Veniste said that no one responded to a help-wanted ad placed in the Washington Times. The ad stated:
"DOMESTIC/GHW - Child care, cooking, F/T job, good pay. US citizen or green card ONLY."
In December 1995, the Labor Department gave Ben-Veniste approval to hire a woman who was a native of the Philippines. She was in this country on a G-5 visa, according to Labor Department records, meaning that she was here as an employee of a foreign government representative. As such, she was not entitled to permanent residency or citizenship.
The people who hired foreign workers either failed to respond to requests for interviews or declined to talk about hiring foreign workers under this program.
When reached by phone by an Inquirer reporter, Ben-Veniste said: "Why would you want to talk to me about that? . . . I regard my public life as separate from my private life, since I am an individual not in government and not in the cross-hairs of this tabloid mentality. If this had something to do with my involvement in public life, I would talk to you about it."
WHO'S DOING THE HIRING
Let's return, for a moment, to some of the businesses that are hiring foreign workers because there are no "able, willing, qualified and available" Americans.
Denny's Restaurant in Fairfax Va., filed an application with the Labor Department in August 1994 to hire a foreign worker as a manager. The restaurant's human resource manager described the job requirements this way:
"Monitor daily operations to ensure that expenses are within budget. Account for cashflow and make bank deposits. Order food supplies and establish food costs. Inventory. Hire and fire personnel. Conduct personnel review, employee work schedules. Responsible for local advertising and business startegy." The job paid $26,600 a year.
Denny's said help-wanted ads were run in the Washington Post or the Washington Times, and "the last advertisement produced three applicants who were not hired due to lack of qualified experience in restaurant management."
The Labor Department authorized Denny's in April 1995 to hire a citizen of Pakistan for the job.
The Monocle Restaurant in Washington, D.C., is a Capitol Hill hangout for lawmakers and lobbyists. It is located in a building owned by Congress. In October 1995, the Labor Department authorized the restaurant to hire two foreign workers as cooks for $8.46 an hour. Assuming a 40-hour week, that's $17,600 a year.
The U.S. Congress' Office of Technology Assessment received approval to employ a foreign worker as a project director for $47,039.
United States Service Industries of Washington, D.C., a janitorial and building maintenance firm that cleans office and commercial buildings in and around the nation's capital, received approval to employ 21 foreign workers as janitorial cleaners and supervisors. Wages ranged from $5.40 to $6.96 an hour, or $11,200 to $14,500 a year. A U.S. Appeals Court ruled in 1996 that the company had failed to pay some of its workers the required overtime.
Coopers & Lybrand of Philadelphia, the accounting firm, received authorization to employ a foreign worker as a systems analyst for $100,000.
Steptoe & Johnson of Washington, D.C., a law firm, received permission to hire a foreign lawyer for $77,000.
The University of Virginia received permission to employ 11 foreign workers as faculty members and professionals, from a botanist to a physiologist, for salaries from $23,500 to $54,000.
Showell Farms Inc. of Showell, Md., a poultry processor acquired by Perdue Farms in 1995, received authorization to hire 45 poultry dressers for $5.50 to $5.90 an hour, or $11,400 to $12,300 a year.
The Women's Club of Chantilly, Va., was permitted to employ a foreign worker as a cosmetician for $5.56 an hour.
Keating Building Corp. in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., received approval to hire a foreign worker as an estimator for $35,000.
Merrifield Garden Center of Merrifield, Va., received approval to employ nine foreign workers as landscape gardeners at wages from $9.22 to $9.50 an hour.
Labor World USA in Washington, D.C., received permission to employ a foreign worker as a kitchen helper for $5.36 an hour, or $11,100 a year for a 40-hour week.
First USA Bank in Wilmington received permission to employ a foreign worker as a market research analyst for $50,000.
Hershey Foods Corp. in Hershey, Pa., received approval to employ a foreign worker as a corporate lawyer for $120,000.
Oakton Quality Services Co. of Oakton, Va., received authorization to hire a foreign worker as a roofer for $11.10 an hour, or $23,100 a year for a 40-hour week.
Rite-Aid Pharmacy in Finksburg, Md., and Huntington, W. Va., was cleared to hire five foreign workers as pharmacists at salaries from $47,200 to $56,200.
The Ramada Hotel in Falls Church, Va., received approval to employ a foreign worker as a bell captain for $7.00 an hour, or $14,600 a year for a 40-hour week.
The Philadelphia School District received permission to employ a foreign worker as a counselor for $27,300.
Americana Grocery Inc. of Washington, D.C. and its suburbs, received approval to hire seven foreign workers as meat cutters at $10.46 to $12.00 an hour.
Pittsburgh Business Consultants Inc. in Pittsburgh received authorization to employ six foreign workers as software engineers and programmer analysts at salaries from $40,000 to $55,000.
The University of Pennsylvania received permission to hire nine foreign faculty members at salaries from $21,700 to $86,000. Temple University School of Medicine and Temple University received approval to employ 10 aliens as faculty members and professionals at salaries from $33,700 to $130,000.
Burger King of Bethesda, Md., was cleared to hire 22 foreign workers as fast-food employees at $5.00 to $5.50 an hour.
The WEFA Group Inc., an economic consulting firm in Bala Cynwyd, received approval to employ four foreign workers as economists at salaries from $23,800 to $38,000.
A number of Washington think tanks and study groups also received permission to hire foreign workers. The Center for Strategic and International Studies wanted a public relations representative at $30,000. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency wanted a sociologist at $16 an hour, or $33,300 a year, assuming a 40-hour week. The Center for Women Policy Studies wanted a research assistant for $36,000. The Institute for Public-Private Partnerships wanted a consultant for $55,000. The National Organization for Victim Assistance wanted a training representative for $538.46 a week.
The Inquirer's parent company, Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., is sponsoring the application for permanent residency of a foreign national here on a student visa. The student is working for PNI as a software analyst under a co-op work program run by a local university.
In addition to the businesses and organizations that received permission from the Labor Department to hire foreign nationals, hundreds of individuals also sought and received authorizations to fill a variety of jobs - houseworker, child monitor, butler, tutor, and horse trainer, among others.
Again, this was under the Permanent Labor Certification Program, which, at least in theory, says that a prospective employer must test the labor market for the availability of U.S. workers at the time the foreign worker seeks a visa.
In reality, the foreign nationals are usually in the United States on another type of visa when they seek employment. Such was the case with those aliens who were authorized to go to work for families in the Washington, D.C., area.
Among the families were Karen Judd Lewis and Jeffrey Lewis of McLean, Va.
She'a lawyer with Williams & Jensen, a Washington law firm. He's an aide to Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts.
In November 1994, the Lewises sought permission to hire a "houseworker, live in." In the application for alien employment certification, carrying the signature of Karen Judd Lewis, the job calls for "light housework, including housekeeping, laundry, cooking, ironing and child care."
The job paid $8.84 an hour, or $18,400 a year, assuming a 40-hour workweek. The Lewises also offered free room and board.
The agent that handled the application process for the Lewises was Associated Catholic Charities of Washington. In an earlier letter to that agency explaining their need for a housekeeper, the Lewises wrote:
"It is necessary for us to have a live-in employee who can take care of our toddler-aged child and help with various activities including laundry, light housekeeping and cooking.
"I am a practicing attorney with a D.C. law firm and a very full, five-day per week schedule. My husband, Jeffrey Lewis, is Chief of Staff to an individual who is extremely involved in political and philanthropic activities.
"While my job does not often require business-related travel, my husband, who is based in D.C., must travel out-of-town approximately three days every week . . ."
The Lewises' candidate for the job was a woman who was a citizen of the Philippines. According to documents filed with the Labor Department, she was in the United States on a G-5 visa. This visa is issued to people employed by official representatives of foreign governments. It does not entitle the holder to remain in this country permanently, or to become a U.S. citizen.
That status changed when the Labor Department, in March 1995, gave the Lewises permission to hire the alien housekeeper under the Permanent Labor Certification Program. Pending final approval by INS, she now qualified for permanent residency and eventual U.S. citizenship.
In response to a request for an interview about the hiring, Karen Judd Lewis said: "You know what? I don't have anything to say to you."
David M. Feitel of Rockville, Md., a member of the Baltimore law firm of Miles & Stockbridge, and staff counsel for the Senate Select Ethics Committee panel that investigated Sen. Bob Packwood, sought permission to hire a foreign national as a children's tutor.
In a three-page, single-spaced letter explaining the need to hire a woman who was a citizen of China and had been a kindergarten teacher there before coming to the United States, Feitel wrote:
"Like many other young American couples nowadays, both my wife and I have professional careers that demand full and uninterrupted devotion. The fact that we are both lawyers makes it more uncompromising in terms of time and attention allowed to family matters, particularly child education.
"My wife is a corporate lawyer employed at Patton Boggs L.L.P. Her work schedule is presently about 40 hours a week, which is considered `part-time.' She was granted this status on a temporary basis after the birth of our first child. . . . When she is required to return to full time status, her time commitment will be approximately an average of 55 to 60 hours per week. . . .
"My job as a government attorney is no less demanding. I work as a Staff Counsel to the United States Senate Ethics Committee. . . . My normal working week easily runs from 55 to 60 hours. . . ."
Feitel went on to say that the couple had tried to hire a "loving nanny" to solve the problem, but the applicants seeking that job "lacked minimum professional skills in child education. . . . We did not hire any of them. This is because we do not want to entrust our daughter's early education to a housekeeper or baby-sitter."
"We decided that what we want is an early childhood educator. . . . We understand that this decision means that we have to look for somebody with professional skills and we have to pay more for the service. We decided to make a long-term commitment and offer $8.15 per hour for the job."
As it turned out, the $8.15-an-hour offer fell below the government guidelines for such work, and was increased to $9.11. That amounted to $18,950, assuming a 40-hour week.
In his letter, Feitel said they had selected the Chinese national for the job because she "had been working as a kindergarten teacher since 1988 in China before she came to this country about two years ago."
Labor Department records fail to show the type of visa the Chinese woman held. Feitel received permission from the Labor Department in August 1995 to hire her as a children's tutor under the Permanent Labor Certification Program. She then qualified for permanent residency and eventual U.S. citizenship.
Feitel did not respond to a request for an interview.
MISPLACED FOREIGN WORKERS
Some businesses in the Labor Department files say the foreign workers who were certified have yet to show up.
That was the case with Dumont Export Corp. of Philadelphia. Dumont is a clothing recycler that collects used clothing, sorts and sells it in this country and to more than two dozen other countries.
It is a family business that was started by Harry Usatch a half-century ago and is now run by his son, Jerald. In 1985, the company and the Usatches pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia to charges involving kickbacks paid to Salvation Army employees for supplying used clothing.
Labor Department records show that from July through November 1995 Dumont received permission to hire 22 foreign workers at $3.92 an hour - or 33 cents below the minimum wage.
When asked about the foreign workers, who were being recruited to sort the incoming used clothing, Jerald Usatch said:
"Somebody asked us if we would give jobs to foreign workers who came in. Nothing happens very quickly. This is something that we started several years ago, about four or five years ago. And I haven't seen the first employee."
Question: Who asked . . .
Answer: There was a fellow in Washington. And we just have not seen them. We have had various times when we've had great difficulty getting workers. We're basically a minimum-wage, starting type of company.
Q: The Labor Department record showed the wage listed as $3.92. Does that make -
A: Again, I think it's because it was prior to the last minimum-wage increase. . . . The last wage increase was '91. OK, this was prior to that. We're now, like, a quarter an hour above minimum starting, and we run up to about $7 or $8 or $9 because we try to tie it into incentives. . . . We start at $4.50.
Q: Who in Washington was doing this?
A: It was a company asked us if we would hire, you know, if they would give us qualified Korean employees, would we be willing to give them a job. And at the time we were very desperate for employees. In fact today, we're hiring a lot of people from halfway houses. . . . We tried Cambodians. . . . We're sort of like a United Nations.
Q: Do you remember the name of the company in Washington?
A: I don't recall.
Q: Was it specifically Koreans?
A: Yeah, I think they were Koreans.
Another company that says it is still awaiting the arrival of its foreign workers is Robzen's Inc., a Scranton, Pa., meatpacking plant.
At various times, Robzen's has received U.S. government contracts to provide meat to the Defense Department and to the school lunch program for needy children.
In December 1994, agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service raided the Scranton slaughterhouse and rounded up more than 125 suspected illegal aliens from Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador who were working at the plant.
Later that day, many of the workers were put on a plane for Mexico. Some were packed off to a Texas jail. Deportation hearings were scheduled for the rest. Robzen's later pleaded guilty to employing illegal aliens.
Sidney Robzen, the company president, said the process to bring in foreign workers was started before the INS raid and was not connected with it in any way.
Reporter: Would these people be in the country or would they be coming from . . .
Robzen: It could be either. Some may be in the country already. Some may not be. Some may be in the country not eligible to work yet. And a good number of them may not even be here.
Q: How do you find them?
A: Well, we deal with a service that . . .
Q: Can you tell me who that is?
A: Well, I'd really rather not. We have an independent service that we've engaged to help with that process.
Robzen's had, indeed, started the recruiting process before the INS raid. But the company stepped up its efforts after losing a large part of its workforce.
Robert M. Foley, a Washington lawyer representing the company, wrote to the Labor Department on Feb. 9, 1995: "The reason for the current request [to expedite proceedings] stems from the fact that the INS has recently raided the company, devastating the company's workforce. Nearly two-thirds of the staff were removed.
"Apparently these employees had obtained what appear on their face to be legitimate INS and Social Security documents, but in fact, according to the government, were fraudulent.
"The company has endeavored to fill the positions vacated by its alien workers, but has been unable to do so. It currently needs over 120 more workers."
Foley went on to explain that Robzen's was "chronically understaffed" and that "apparently no one wants to enter the meat industry anymore . . . despite the fact that the industry is heavily unionized and well-paid."
In its application seeking permission to hire foreign workers, Robzen's listed the starting pay at $5.50 an hour. Assuming a 40-hour week, that's $11,440 a year - a poverty-level income for a family of three.
When Sidney Robzen was asked about the company's ability to find workers in the area, he replied: "It's not particularly easy to do that. Often times, people just don't find it very appealing working in a beef slaughtering and boning facility. By and large, a good number of the local labor force just
does not like to do it."
As for the pay rate of $5.50 an hour, Robzen said that was starting pay. "We're talking about somebody green off the street, who's never seen a knife or never done anything before," he said.
What could a more experienced worker expect to earn?
"I would rather not discuss that," he said.
Two months after one federal agency (INS) rounded up illegal aliens at the meatpacking plant, another federal agency (the Labor Department) authorized Robzen's to hire 30 aliens to work as meat boners at $5.50 an hour.
The certification was issued Feb. 10, 1995 - one day after Robzen's Washington lawyer requested the Labor Department to speed up its screening process.
PLUCKING WORKERS FROM ABROAD
On March 27, 1996, the office of Pennsylvania's Republican governor, Tom Ridge, distributed the following news about Empire Kosher Poultry Inc. of Mifflintown, Pa.:
"On behalf of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, Pennsylvania Commerce Secretary Thomas B. Hagen today visited Mifflintown to announce that Juniata County's largest employer, Empire Kosher Poultry, will create 150 new jobs in their state-of-the-art processing plant. Empire Kosher Poultry is the largest kosher poultry producer in the world.
" 'Empire Kosher Poultry's superior dedication, hard work and commitment to provide family-sustaining jobs for Pennsylvanians and economic growth for the community is to be commended,' Hagen said. `This expansion in Pennsylvania is a clear indication of Empire Kosher Poultry's faith in the Ridge Administration's new job-friendly climate.' "
The governor's press release went on to quote David Wiggins, president of Empire Kosher Poultry, as saying: "We are fortunate to draw from Pennsylvania's dedicated workforce. There is no better place to work. Our ability to offer new jobs through continued growth and expansion, means
greater opportunity and quality employment for future generations."
What neither Empire's president nor the governor's office mentioned was this: Just months earlier, between July and December 1995, the company received approval to employ 23 foreign workers as poultry eviscerators, U.S. Labor Department records show.
Their pay, described by the commerce secretary as "family-sustaining," was put at $4.75 an hour, or $9,900 a year if they worked 40-hour weeks. That's a poverty-level income for families.
As was the case with Robzen's, Empire Kosher Poultry says the foreign workers have not yet arrived, although their hiring has been authorized by the Labor Department.
Keep in mind that workers who came in under this program are admitted because the employers stated that no qualified local workers were available.
But was that true? And if it was, how did the Labor Department arrive at that conclusion?
"MANIPULATED AND ABUSED"
When an employer seeks to hire a foreign worker under the Permanent Labor Certification Program, the U.S. Labor Department and the state Employment Security Agency where the job is located are required to test the local labor market to make certain there are no Americans "able, willing, qualified and available" to fill the job.
The state employment agencies are supposed to refer qualified applicants to the employer, who also is required to advertise the job opening for three consecutive days. If local applicants are rejected, the employer must give the state a job-related reason.
And most are rejected. Why?
Here's the blunt answer from the Inspector General's Office of the U.S. Labor Department in a May 1996 report following its audit:
The program is being "manipulated and abused. For the most part, employers use the program to obtain permanent resident visas for aliens who already work for them, some illegally. Others use the program to obtain the green card for friends or relatives for jobs that may or may not actually exist."
Furthermore, the Inspector General's investigators determined that "the required labor market test is ineffective in ensuring that qualified, willing and available U.S. workers are given a fair opportunity to compete for the jobs for which aliens are hired."
Based on their survey, the investigators concluded that 136,400 Americans applied for jobs in three-fourths of the 23,400 cases requiring a labor market test. Only 104 were hired.
That worked out to a hire rate of eight-hundredths of 1 percent.
In the other one-fourth of the cases, the employers received no local applicants from the advertisements, no referrals from the state employment agencies.
That's because, as the investigators learned, state employment personnel "are reluctant to waste their own and the applicants' time on referrals for job interviews when they know there is no real job opening." The employer is just going through the motions; the job is reserved for an alien.
To discourage American applicants, "employers bury advertisements in the smallest available print, mislabel the jobs being advertised, and fill advertisements with baffling abbreviations making the job requirements unclear," the audit found.
In short, the labor market test is a sham.
Of the "immigrants" hired under this program, 99 percent already were in the United States at the time of the application and 74 percent already were working for the petitioning employer.
The system, the Inspector General concluded, "is being used to determine which [foreign] students or temporary workers will be allowed to remain in, rather than enter, the United States."
H-1B "TEMPORARY" SPECIALTY WORKERS
Since 1990, nearly 600,000 foreign workers have come to the United States under the Permanent Labor Certification Program. All were guaranteed U.S. citizenship.
A quarter-million more workers were brought here under another program called H-1B, which allows businesses to hire foreign nationals to work in "a specialty occupation" for up to six years.
At the end of that period, the workers - at least in theory and in law - are required to return to their home countries. Many stay.
Why did the U.S. government establish this program?
Because business interests convinced Congress they needed to be able to hire "the best and the brightest" from throughout the world if America was to compete in the global economy. U.S. corporations lobbied hard for this program when Congress was revising the immigration laws in 1990. And not without reason.
Foreign workers often are paid less than U.S. workers in the same positions. They usually are willing - sometimes forced - to work longer hours without overtime pay. Sometimes there are no fringe benefits. They can be dismissed when a specific project is completed, so companies need not be burdened with full-time employees.
And some foreign workers are treated as independent contractors, so U.S. companies don't withhold federal income taxes or Social Security taxes. Sometimes the workers - who are employed by foreign-owned jobs agencies in the United States that contract out their services to American companies - pay no U.S. income tax on earnings in this country.
How is it possible for a full-time foreign worker in the United States to escape payment of federal income taxes that working U.S. citizens must pay - indeed have withheld from their paychecks?
Easy. The salaries of some foreign workers are deposited directly into bank accounts in their home countries. They receive allowances to live on while here. Rent for apartments is paid directly, as are insurance costs. As a result, some foreign workers are able to escape the taxation here.
The tax question was posed during an unrelated legal proceeding to one Indian computer specialist who worked both for American International Group and Firemen's Fund Insurance.
Lawyer: Do you pay taxes here in the United States?
Q: Only in India?
Under the H-1B program, employers are not required to show that there is a shortage of American workers. They merely fill out a form describing the job, the pay rate and how long the alien will be employed.
The only supposed protection for Americans is that employers must agree to pay the prevailing wage. It's a promise often ignored, the Inspector General's audit found.
By law, the Labor Department is allowed to review the applications only "for completeness and obvious inaccuracies." Congress set up the program in such a way that the Labor Department has no say in whether a particular job opening meets the definition of a "specialty occupation." That task falls to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
So what are some of the "specialty occupations" that INS has authorized foreign workers to fill - positions defined as requiring "theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge"?
Well, Pizza Hut in Marlboro, Mass., wanted a manager for $30,000. Page One Italian Ristorante in New York needed a food-service worker at $29,120. Office Depot in Chicago wanted an assistant manager for $27,500. Denny's restaurant in Danvers, Mass., wanted a manager for $25,000. Intercontinental Hotel in New York sought a marketing representative for $23,000. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston wanted an assistant manager for $23,000. And Howard University in Washington, D.C., sought a swimming coach for $10,000.
As the Inspector General's Office observed, with some understatement: "Not all types of jobs being filled by H-1B aliens necessarily represent jobs that would enhance U.S. employers' abilities to compete in a global economy."
But many of the H-1B jobs are indeed in technical fields. Throw a dart at the Fortune 500 and you'll most likely hit a company that has filed requests with the Labor Department to hire foreign workers. Among the recruiting companies:
Chrysler, Cigna, First National Bank of Chicago, Ford, General Electric, General Mills, Georgia-Pacific Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Intel, J.C. Penney Co., Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., Microsoft, Motorola, Pacific Bell, Procter & Gamble, and Unisys Corp.
Some companies that received permission to bring in foreign labor have even laid off American workers.
AT&T received approval in 1995 to hire a foreign electrical engineer to work in Murray Hill, N.J., for $50,000 a year; a computer systems engineer in North Andover, Mass., at $40,000, and a computer scientist in East Brunswick, N.J., at $65,000. In January 1996, AT&T announced it would cut 40,000 jobs (13 percent of its workforce), most through layoffs, as part of its plan to break into three separate companies.
Chase Manhattan Bank got permission to hire foreign workers to fill openings in New York for a derivatives analyst at $40,000, a financial analyst at $36,000, and a Latin American financial officer at $60,000. Following its merger with Chemical Bank, the banks said that the jobs of 12,000 people would be eliminated.
The U.S. Department of Labor has criticized these programs and Labor Secretary Robert Reich says, at the least, they should be modified.
Among reforms he recommended to Congress last September are a "no-layoff" provision, requiring companies to assure that they have not displaced any U.S. worker within six months before applying for foreign workers; a "no strike, no lockout" provision to ensure that foreign workers aren't used in labor disputes; and a reduction in the time that H-1B workers may stay here from six years to three.
The demand for workers under H-1B has become so great that employment agents have set up "jobs shops" supplying foreign labor to U.S. companies. The agents secure visas and arrange jobs for thousands from abroad each year.
One such company is Tata Consultancy Services, a Bombay, India, company with offices in a number of U.S. cities, including Detroit, Dallas, Houston, Cincinnati and Silver Spring, Md.
Tata, which recruits computer workers in India, received U.S. government approval to bring in software specialists, largely design engineers, to fill jobs in Poughkeepsie, Schenectady and Hawthorne, N.Y.; in New York City; and in Neptune, Roseland, Murray Hill, Cranbury and Jersey City, N.J., among other locations. Most of the jobs paid $28,500.
Mastech Corp. in Pittsburgh, another employment firm specializing in computer engineers and programmers from India, received permission to fill at least 750 jobs in about two dozen U.S. cities with foreign nationals, according to an Inquirer sampling of Labor Department records. The salaries ranged from $30,000 to $45,000.
Mastech, which advertises that "its base of over 300 clients includes the White House," also uses the Permanent Labor Certification Program to recruit foreign workers. In 1995, the company received Labor Department approval to bring into the United States more than 50 software engineers, programmer analysts and systems analysts after certifying that there were no qualified U.S. workers available. Mastech said the salaries ranged from $38,000 to $51,100.
The country that supplies the most people for H-1B visa jobs: India.
During 1994 and 1995, a total of 16,948 H-1B visas - or 16 percent of the 105,925 such visas issued - went to Indian citizens, primarily in the computer field.
Runner-up: the United Kingdom, with 13,696 visas. Japan was third, with 7,317.
HOW A SCARCITY BECAME A GLUT
The record volume of immigrants coming to America is traceable to the Immigration Act of 1990.
The first major rewrite of immigration law in 25 years, the 1990 act greatly increased the number of workers who could enter the country each year and made it much easier for companies to bring in temporary foreign workers.
Even before those changes, the United States was more open to immigrants than any other nation.
For much of American history, immigration has been a controversial issue, as the nation has tried to balance the interests of domestic labor with the desires of foreigners to come here.
But never before were the doors opened as wide as they were under the 1990 law. The peak year for immigration in all of U.S. history was 1991, when 1,827,167 immigrants arrived.
Just as important was a change in the type of immigrant who would be admitted. The 1990 law quadrupled the number of skilled workers allowed, from 27,000 to 110,000 a year.
Since 1990, American companies have brought in aliens under work visas by the tens of thousands, many of them well-educated computer scientists and programmers.
What was the rationale for increasing the number of foreign skilled workers?
The answer is found in a curious place - the National Science Foundation.
A series of internal papers within the agency in the late 1980s put forth the theory that the United States, by the early 21st century, would face an acute shortage of scientists and engineers.
In a paper titled "Future Scarcities of Scientists and Engineers: Problems and Solutions," requested by then-NSF director Erich Bloch, the foundation's Division of Policy Research and Analysis predicted a "shortfall" of scientists and engineers that would grow to 675,000 by early in the next century.
Bloch used the coming-scarcity theme over and over in speeches and in testimony before Congress to try to obtain more funding for the science foundation.
While appearing before then-Sen. Albert Gore Jr.'s Senate subcommittee on science, technology and space on May 8, 1990, Bloch was asked about the accuracy of the forecasts of a shortage:
"If you were a betting man," Gore asked Bloch, "what kind of odds would you give that there will, in fact, be - without changes in current policy - a serious shortage of well-qualified scientists and engineers by the year 2000?"
Bloch: Two to one.
Gore: Two to one. Did you win on the Derby last Saturday?
Bloch: No, I do not bet on horses; I only bet on people.
In 1989, when Congress held hearings on revising immigration law, a stream of corporate witnesses paraded before House and Senate committees calling for changes to allow corporations to bring in more foreign workers.
Said Frank D. Kittredge, speaking for the Business Immigration Coalition, a group of Fortune 500 companies, immigration lawyers and foreign trade interests: "We must be able to have the right person with the necessary international capability and experience in the right place at the right time. Otherwise, we face a serious lack of competitiveness."
Said the American Immigration Lawyers Association, representing large corporations: "The present low number of available visas for employer-sponsored immigrants translates into harmful delays for U.S. business and industry, causing delays in projects, delays in production, and decreased economic competitiveness."
Said Phyllis Eisen, director of risk management for the National Association of Manufacturers: "Increasingly, America faces new challenges from foreign economic powers. There is a growing pressure on U.S. industries to compete efficiently and effectively in the international marketplace. One of the tools necessary to do so are our immigration laws that provide for the transfer of international personnel and the entry of employer-sponsored immigrants. Unfortunately these laws and procedures are outdated and do not reflect the needs of U.S.-based corporations that operate in a global marketplace."
President George Bush's economic report to Congress in 1990 sounded the same alarm: "As the U.S. economy enters the 1990s, concerns are growing about the effects of possible labor shortages on production and wages. . . . With projections of a rising demand for skilled workers in coming years, the nation can achieve even greater benefits from immigration . . . with policies designed to increase the number of skilled immigrants. Immigrants with more education or training will likely make the greatest contributions to the U.S. economy."
Newspapers, magazines and television picked up on the story, repeating as gospel the notion that the United States was on the verge of an acute shortage of scientists and engineers:
Science magazine, on June 30, 1989, warned about the shortfall in an article titled "Wanted: 675 Future Scientists and Engineers." A Wall Street Journal story on Sept. 17, 1990, was headlined, "Shortage of Scientists Approaches a Crisis as More Students Drop Out of the Field."
Spurred by this drumbeat about the impending shortage, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990. Lawmakers cited the looming skill shortage as a reason for approving the bill:
"The bill allows [foreign workers] to enter the United States for employment in order to remedy critical labor shortages in specific fields," said Rep. Jack Brooks (D., Texas).
"The Department of Labor projects 6.7 million new professional and managerial jobs will be created in the 1990s across the country. Unfortunately, the education and skills of the U.S. labor force will be unable to match labor market needs. This legislation's employment-based immigration provisions will supplement the threatening labor supply shortage," said Rep. Ted Weiss (D., N.Y.).
A real labor crisis, right?
There was just one problem: The National Science Foundation prediction was wrong.
So, too, were the speeches on the floors of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. And the testimony before congressional committees, the speeches by representatives of professional organizations, the newspaper and magazine articles, the radio and television reports.
The much-touted skills shortage never materialized. Indeed, the opposite has occurred. The 1990s have seen one of the weakest job markets in decades for engineers and scientists.
Between 1990 and 1993, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 146,000 engineering jobs disappeared, as employment fell from 1.862 million to 1.716 million. Two new engineers were graduated from U.S. universities for every job that opened up. And the unemployment rate for engineers doubled, from 2.1 percent to 4.1 percent.
Yet during this period, the United States admitted nearly 190,000 engineers as immigrants or temporary workers.
While engineering employment has recovered somewhat since 1993, consider this: From 1990 to 1995, the number of engineers employed in the United States increased by 72,000.
During those years, 388,000 students were graduated from American universities with bachelor's degrees in engineering. A total of 178,000 received master's degrees in engineering. An additional 36,000 received doctorates. And 237,200 foreign engineers came into this country to work "temporarily."
Not only was the "shortfall" prediction off-base, but the methodology by which the National Science Foundation arrived at the numbers has since been discredited by scientists, who said it was based on faulty assumptions and weak data.
By then, of course, the damage had been done. Foreign engineers and computer programmers were streaming into the United States, courtesy of the new immigration law designed to accommodate multinational corporations.
Copyright 1996 PHILADELPHIA NEWSPAPERS INC.
May not be reprinted without permission.