Last October, 250 IT employees at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in Florida were told that they would be laid off as part of an reorganization. Many were surprised. And then there was another unpleasant surprise: They would be replaced by IT workers from India, whom they would train to do their jobs in order to receive severance. In May, another 35 tech employees at Disney in California were given the same deal: Say goodbye to your job and don’t forget to train your replacement on your way out. In a turnaround, Disney recently announced that this latest round of layoffs has been canceled.
The story has kicked off a new debate about the use (and possible abuses) of the H-1B visa program, a debate familiar to those who work in tech. The H-1B visa is a temporary, non-immigration visa for foreigners in “special occupations.” The careers that qualify are ones that usually require a college degree and specialized skills in science, engineering, and technology (and oddly, modeling is also included). The visa lasts for up to three years, and can be renewed.
There are two narratives about America that are wrapped up in the H-1B visa debate: One is that immigrants are taking away American jobs (the evidence for this is mixed), the other that retaining talented immigrants is important for the U.S. economy—particularly the start-up and tech industries.