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American Workers Need Not Apply

State of the Union: Chicago companies prefer H-1B visa holders over native workers, suit claims.
George H. W. Bush;Robert A. Mosbacher;Richard G. Darman;James D. Watkins
(Photo by Dirck Halstead/Getty Images)

U.S. Tech Workers filed a complaint today with the Department of Justice regarding discriminatory hiring practices against native workers in the city of Chicago. Concealing themselves behind language of entrepreneurial networking under the collective name “Chicago H-1B Connect,” a myriad of top corporations have been prioritizing H-1B visa holders over American citizens, the complaint claims. Among those Chicagoland employers featured as “eager to employ the best and brightest in tech” are John Deere, Walgreens, Discover Financial Services, and the University of Chicago.

Around four dozen employers are listed as respondents for engaging in what the legal complaint characterizes as “an unlawful scheme of recruitment based on immigration status.” Two specific nonprofits, P33 and World Business Chicago, are accused of operating as middlemen who help corporations in their pursuit of H-1B workers. The charge submitted to the DOJ catalogues incidents where American citizens—almost all of whom are degree holders—were unable to attain jobs in the tech space with employers using third party recruiting services for H1-B workers.


In one case, a complainant applied for a “Support Specialist” job at the University of Chicago and received a rejection. Then, two months later, he submitted the same resume, presenting as an H1-B worker through the name “Prashanth Patel.” Mr. Patel was contacted four days later to inquire about his willingness to “relocate for the job.”

Another complainant, a software engineer with a PhD in computer science, applied for jobs with eight of the respondent employers participating in “Chicago H1-B Connect,” only to receive rejections or dead-end acknowledgements that her application had been received.

The H1-B Connect program homepage is sprinkled with altruistic language about “uniting to assist current H-1B visa holders.” “These are difficult & turbulent times for anyone losing their job,” they write. However, “a job loss for foreign workers on H-1B status also threatens their immigration status, and potentially for them and their family’s status too.” The recent charge from U.S. Tech Workers makes clear that corporate motivation for participating in these programs likely has less to do with charitably protecting immigrants than it does retaining a ready supply of perfect employees—employees who lack the bargaining power of American citizens.

President George H.W. Bush’s Immigration Act of 1990 created the H-1B visa program, allowing temporary residence for employment in a “specialty occupation” in which legal status is tethered to the employer. If an H-1B holder does not find another job within 60 days of being laid off, then they are required to leave the country. H-1B holders can work in the U.S. for six years (three years with the chance for another three-year renewal). The program also notably allows for “dual intent,” where the H1-B holder can pursue permanent legal status in the form of a green card sponsored by their employer.

Unlike American citizens, these foreign workers cannot simply walk away and choose another employer if they are dissatisfied with pay or work conditions without risking the possibility of being forced to return to their country of origin. Likewise, H-1B holder’s hope of being sponsored for a green card further incentivizes employers to avoid hiring Americans who cannot be subject to the same leverage. Although “Chicago H1-B Connect” is branded as a service to help H1-B holders with “identifying career opportunities,” the reality is that the participating companies are still impersonal, profit-driven entities who stand to financially gain through preferential hiring.

Kevin Lynn, executive director of the Institute for Sound Public Policy (the non-profit that supports U.S. Tech Workers), particularly denounced John Deere and Caterpillar for their willingness to “use these sham recruiting firms to discriminate against U.S. workers, all the while presenting themselves as All-American companies working in our best interests.” Lynn was also quick to note that this is not simply a case of a few bad actors, but rather a systemic practice enabled by a broken H-1B visa program: "As with much of our immigration system, the H-1B visa program is designed to displace American workers employers deemed to be expensive, undeserving and expendable.”