H1-Bs in the Firing Line

By Felix Salmon
March 31, 2009

As the annual scramble for H1-B visas kicks tomorrow, an interesting wrinkle has appeared in the usual proceedings. Here’s an email sent to foreign employees by Wells Fargo:

“Due to the fact that we have and will be displacing numerous U.S. citizens in your same positions Wells Fargo has decided to enforce a policy that prohibits lines of businesses to file visa sponsorships for foreign nationals that would hold positions that could otherwise be held by qualified U.S. citizens.”
“As a recipient of these funds we feel as a company we could not justify to our political officials the need to provide sponsorship,” the email added.

The rule that H1-B visas can only be issued for jobs where no US qualified citizen can be found to perform the role is a rule which is honored almost entirely in the breach. Everybody pays lip-service to it, and there’s quite a trade in job advertisements for positions which have already been filled by a foreigner but which need to be advertised all the same so that the necessary visa can be obtained.

Still, it does make perfect sense that Wells Fargo is disinclined to perpetuate such deceptions in the wake of receiving $25 billion of TARP funds. If you’ve just fired a bunch of US citizens doing the same job, it’s not very easy to claim with a straight face that no US citizens can be found to do it. And so when an employee’s H1-B visa expires after three years, the normally-automatic renewal process has now turned into something much more drastic for foreign Wells employees.

Those employees will now automatically be out of status as soon as their present visas expire, and will very likely have to leave the country. Now remember that these are skilled and valuable employees who have deliberately been kept on by Wells in the face of layoffs, precisely because they presumably contribute in important ways to the bank. But never mind all that — there’s no way that Wells Fargo is going to be caught in yet another media gotcha moment.

Interestingly, Goldman Sachs remains defiant:

Goldman Sachs, another TARP recipient, is renewing existing H-1B visas and continues to offer jobs to foreign workers who need new temporary visas to join the investment bank.
“We will make offers to the best people regardless of where they live,” said Ed Canaday, a Goldman spokesman.

Good for them. But taking that position takes some cojones, in the present environment.

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