A bipartisan group of senators is seeking a federal investigation into alleged abuses in a popular visa program that has been linked to layoffs of U.S. workers in favor of cheaper foreign labor, the Los Angeles Times has learned.
Prompted by reports of massive layoffs at Southern California Edison Co. as the utility company outsources information technology jobs and other positions, the senators Thursday called on the Justice, Homeland Security and Labor departments to investigate the practice.
"We are concerned about recent information that has come to light regarding the abuse of the H-1B visa program by Southern California Edison (SCE) and other employers to replace large numbers of American workers," wrote Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who led the bipartisan group.
"We respectfully request that you investigate the unacceptable replacement of American workers by H-1B workers to ascertain if SCE or any other U.S. companies that have engaged in this practice, or the IT companies supplying those companies with H-1B workers, have violated the law."
The Los Angeles Times has reported that Southern California Edison's workers have found themselves in the position of training their foreign replacements as the company sheds hundreds of employees in favor of workers from India.
The company insisted it is not hiring foreign workers to displace U.S. employees and said it "abides by the law" and "will cooperate with any investigation" addressing the concerns raised by the senators.
Many U.S. companies say they cannot fill their needs for high-skilled labor, especially in the tech industry, which has long relied on the H-1B program allowing temporary visas for niche workers.
But studies have also shown that companies can use the program to cut labor costs.
The senators' letter comes days after the annual application process for the visa program hit its cap again this year.
The 10 senators represent an unusual alliance of the most conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who have broad disagreements on many other issues, including immigration reform.
But the senators noted they are united on this issue as they try to protect American jobs.