Darin Wedel, of Fort Worth, was laid off from his job as a semiconductor engineer at Texas Instruments three years ago. Last month, Wedel's wife confronted President Obama during a live chat on a Google+ Hangout and said Wedel has been unable to find work ever since because the market is saturated with foreign tech pros working in the U.S. on H-1B visas.
"If your husband is in that field, then we should have his resume, and we should forward it to the companies who are telling me that they can't find enough engineers in this field," Obama responded. And it turns out that's exactly what the President, or his staffers, at least, did.
The White House's involvement landed Wedel a number of offers, including one from Intel, but he said he was unable to accept because none of the positions was in north Texas, where Wedel needs to remain because of a child custody arrangement. Wedel also reportedly turned down three other out-of-state offers, as well as one for a job in Austin.
"We had the head guy from Intel call us and basically said, 'If you move to New York, we’ll get you a job,'" Jennifer Wedel told NBC 5 in Dallas-Fort Worth. "It kind of gets me teary-eyed because I wish we could."
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The H-1B program allocates 85,000 visas per year for foreign-born workers with degrees in high-skill areas such as engineering and programming. The visas are good for three years, and can be renewed for an additional three-year period.
Proponents of expanding the program, including tech giants such as Microsoft, say the influx of foreign tech talent is necessary to make up for what they say is a shortage of IT workers in the U.S. Critics like the Wedels say the program simply provides a means for companies to replace American workers with low-wage help from overseas.
Among those taking up the Wedels' cause following Jennifer's exchange with the President was U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). In a letter to the President last week, Grassley called for reforms in the H-1B program.
"Thousands of qualified Americans remain out of work while companies are incentivized to import foreign workers," Grassley wrote. "I’m concerned that you're hearing only one side of the story--from businesses who claim that there are better and brighter people abroad."
Grassley urged Obama to support bills, including those he's introduced in the past, that would require companies to demonstrate that there are no qualified Americans available for a position before filling it with an H-1B worker. "I hope you'll work with me to make changes to the H-1B visa program on behalf of all these Americans," Grassley said.
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