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A Visa Loophole as Big as a Mainframe

More companies are using L-1 visas to bring in low-wage foreign IT workers--and replace Americans

Senior systems analyst Patricia Fluno was shocked when she found out last summer that she and 11 colleagues in the Lake Mary (Fla.) offices of Siemens (SI ) were being replaced by techies brought in by Tata Consultancy Services, India's largest information-technology (IT) consulting firm. Fluno, 53, couldn't understand how Tata and Siemens could bring Indian workers into the U.S.

After all, in 2001, Congress had specifically banned the displacement of U.S. employees by foreigners brought in under the controversial H-1B visa program, which many employers had tapped to fill vacant jobs in the booming 1990s. Congress also had demanded rules requiring employers to pay H-1B workers prevailing U.S. wages--and Siemens made no bones about the cost-cutting nature of the layoffs. When Fluno asked one of the replacements about his visa during the two months that she trained him to take her job, Fluno says a Siemens manager told her not to ask such "personal" questions.