Disney lawsuit may drag Trump back into H-1B visa debate

A lawsuit filed against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts last week is putting a slightly different twist in the ongoing argument over immigration, outsourcing and American jobs. We’ve covered plenty of stories about companies such as IBM and the Detroit automobile industry shipping jobs or entire factories to other nations, but Disney has allegedly been playing a different sort of game. This suit is being brought by 30 of the roughly 250 American IT workers who lost their jobs at Disney a couple of years ago, only to be replaced by H-1B visa holders from India. To add insult to injury, the displaced employees had to train the new arrivals as their last assignment before being shown to the door. To make the legal challenge even more interesting, they’re claiming that this is a case of racism. (Daily Mail)

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is being sued by 30 former IT staff from its Florida offices who claim they were unfairly replaced by foreign workers – but only after being forced to train them up.

The suit, filed Monday in an Orlando court, alleges that Disney laid off 250 of its US IT staff because it wanted to replace them with staff from India, who were hired in on H-1B foreign employee visas.

That, the suit says, is racial discrimination – and it’s now demanding damages, in a case that has also caught the eye of President-elect Donald Trump, The Register reported.

As I mentioned, the suit is claiming that Disney gave preference to the new workers because they are from India, creating a de facto racial preference system, but I’m not sure how far that portion of the argument will fly in a courtroom. There doesn’t seem to be any indication that the workers were sought out and brought in because of their specific Indian heritage, but rather the circumstances of their immigration and employment status. Since their legal presence in the country is supposed to be tied to their employment status (more on that in a moment), the H-1B workers are likely to accept lower wages, longer working hours and fewer benefits than citizens working in the generally desirable IT industry.

This is an argument which Trump has weighed in on in the past and a point of contention between the President Elect and Barack Obama. It was almost one year ago when Obama raised eyebrows by issuing an executive order which would allow these H-1B visa holders to receive green cards and stay in the country even if their employment was terminated. This led observers to note that he was essentially corrupting the entire purpose of the H-1B program and overload existing immigration quotas. (Numbers USA)

The executive action would offer extensions to high-skilled foreign H-1B workers, providing more time to be approved for a permanent employment-based green card.

“Obama has gone the Full Monty to bust the immigration system,” says immigration lawyer John Miano who recently co-authored the book “Sold Out” that focused on Disney’s use of the H-1B program to replace American tech workers. “What is going on is he is effectively giving Green Cards to people on H-1B visas who are unable to get Green Cards due to the [annual] quotas… it could be over 100,000.”

The INA states that no country may receive more than 7 percent of the total number of green cards available in a given year. The executive action would bypass the INA per-country caps for H-1B workers, essentially providing them with a fast track to U.S. citizenship.

Rather than focusing on racism, the Disney case would likely be better served by directing attention to the fact that Disney seems to be using the program in a way which directly contradicts the stated purpose of the program. The Department of Labor is quite specific in noting that these visas constitute a sort of partnership between an employer and a temporary visitor (with no other legal status to be in the country) with the intent, “to help employers who cannot otherwise obtain needed business skills and abilities from the U.S. workforce by authorizing the temporary employment of qualified individuals who are not otherwise authorized to work in the United States.”

If you are laying off American workers who were obviously qualified to do the work (as shown by your willingness to previously hire them) and immediately replacing them with H-1B workers who had to be trained by the people you are sending to the unemployment line, the program is clearly being abused. When you begin handing out green cards to the replacements which bust current immigration caps, the problem is compounded. So with all that in mind, Disney may be guilty of something in the case of these specific workers, but they were certainly aided and abetted in their efforts by the Obama administration.