Toys ‘R’ Us Brings Temporary Foreign Workers to U.S. to Move Jobs Overseas

Julia Preston, New York Times, September 29, 2015

When Congress designed temporary work visa programs, the idea was to bring in foreigners with specialized, hard-to-find skills who would help American companies grow, creating jobs to expand the economy. Now, though, some companies are bringing in workers on those visas to help move jobs out of the country.

For four weeks this spring, a young woman from India on a temporary visa sat elbow to elbow with an American accountant in a snug cubicle at the headquarters of Toys “R” Us here. The woman, an employee of a giant outsourcing company in India hired by Toys “R” Us, studied and recorded the accountant’s every keystroke, taking screen shots of her computer and detailed notes on how she issued payments for toys sold in the company’s megastores.

“She just pulled up a chair in front of my computer,” said the accountant, 49, who had worked for the company for more than 15 years. “She shadowed me everywhere, even to the ladies’ room.”

By late June, eight workers from the outsourcing company, Tata Consultancy Services, or TCS, had produced intricate manuals for the jobs of 67 people, mainly in accounting. They then returned to India to train TCS workers to take over and perform those jobs there. The Toys “R” Us employees in New Jersey, many of whom had been at the company more than a decade, were laid off.

A temporary visa program known as H-1B allows American employers to hire foreign professionals with college degrees and “highly specialized knowledge,” mainly in science and technology, to meet their needs for particular skills. Employers, according to the federal guidelines, must sign a declaration that the foreign workers “will not adversely affect the working conditions” of Americans or lower their wages.

In recent years, however, global outsourcing and consulting firms have obtained thousands of temporary visas to bring in foreign workers who have taken over jobs that had been held by American workers. The Labor Department has opened an investigation of possible visa violations by contractors at the Walt Disney Company and at Southern California Edison, where immigrants replaced Americans in jobs they were doing in this country. Four former workers at Disney have filed discrimination complaints against the company. The companies say they have complied with all applicable laws.

But the Toys “R” Us layoffs–and others underway now at the New York Life Insurance Company and other businesses–go further. They are examples of how global outsourcing companies are using temporary visas to bring in foreign workers who do not appear to have exceptional skills–according to interviews with a dozen current or former employees of Toys “R” Us and New York Life–to help ship out jobs, mainly to India.

These former employees described their experience training foreigners to do their work so it could be moved to India. They would speak only on the condition that their names not be published, saying they feared losing severance payments or hurting their chances of finding new jobs.

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Kathleen Waugh, a spokeswoman for Toys “R” Us, said the staff reduction there was part of “designing a streamlined, more efficient global organization to make it fit for growth.” She said the contractors were required to comply with “any and all immigration laws.” The outsourcing, she noted, “resulted in significant cost savings.”

William Werfelman, a vice president and spokesman at New York Life, said the outsourcing was part of a transformation of its technology systems that would soon result in more jobs in the United States. “Our decisions are centered on keeping the company competitive, keeping it in the United States, keeping it growing,” he said.

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