Giving Them Hell: John Miano on the H-1B Visa

A fierce advocate for the American software developer, John Miano fights the good fight against what he describes as the widespread practice of employers using low-cost foreign workers to depress U.S. tech wages.
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John Miano, H-1B activist

John Miano

You might call John Miano the “Lou Dobbs of the tech industry.” Miano, a onetime programmer who’s now a lawyer, is a fierce advocate for American software developers against what he sees as the encroaching tide of low-cost foreign software developers.

The H-1B visa program, which allows skilled foreign workers to work in the U.S. temporarily, is “a complete and total mess,” he says. The program is the ultimate managerial tactic to drive down wages, by his account: it provides lower cost, lower skilled workers who displace American IT professionals. In the never-ending battle between management and labor, the H-1B visa is management’s sharpest tool.

In short, Miano’s not happy. And he’s doing something about it.

One of his chief thrusts is a campaign of legal action taken in partnership with the Programmer’s Guild. As he tells it, many U.S. tech companies strongly favor H-1B workers over American workers, knowing that pay levels for H-1B workers are lower.

Miano launches legal action for American workers who claim they’ve been discriminated against in the hiring process. It’s illegal to discriminate based on immigration status.

“They tell me they’ve applied for a job. At the end, the company writes back to them. ‘Oh, I didn’t realize we couldn’t hire U.S. citizens for this job.’ It’s quite flagrant. I have thousands of these ads. It’s quite open what’s going on here.”

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Before hiring an H-1B worker, American firms must make a good faith effort to hire a U.S. worker. Yet apparently this doesn’t always happen. The Programmer’s Guild (Miano is a board member) links to a controversial YouTube video that allegedly reveals how U.S. firms go through the motions of considering American workers – placing ads, even interviewing – yet actually are willing to hire only foreign workers. (The company depicted in the video disputes the Guild’s interpretation, saying its footage has been misused.)

The results of Miano’s legal action vary based on how egregious the violation is. In most cases, “They tend to settle,” he says. He claims that about 100 firms have had to change their hiring practices in response to suits he’s filed. “At one time we had 300 [lawsuits] in the queue. And we started filing them and at one point the government said, ‘Please stop.’”

So far, Miano’s suits have only been against smaller companies, firms he refers to as “H-1B body shops.” These are firms who hire low-cost H1-B workers, then turn around and sub-contract them out to larger IT companies.

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These larger firms are complicit in H-1B abuse, he claims. These bigger companies use preferred vendors lists (which in itself is a common industry practice that is not illegal). Yet when hiring contract workers, some companies limit their preferred vendors lists to firms that only hire H-1B workers, the so-called “H-1B body shops.”

These larger firms might find themselves in legal hot water, Miano says. “You know that when we do discovery on them, we’re going to find some email from somebody who says, How come you guys are only sending us people from companies that are sending us H-1B workers?”

Apart from the legal issues, Miano says that the preferred vendor list system has become highly constrictive, establishing a near-stranglehold on contract IT hiring – a large part of the tech industry.

“Sometimes when a manager knows somebody, they will say, ‘Okay, I’d like to hire you, but you have to go over to this company, and then work through them,’” he says. “And they’re the ones who support the H-1B workers. They kind of wink and nod that they don’t do it.” But the effect is to block U.S. tech talent.

“We’re starting to get evidence against companies that are using preferred vendors lists to limit the hiring though H-1B body shops.”

Continued: Lower wages?

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