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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Weak Winners of Globalization: Indian H-1B Workers in the American Information Economy


This article examines the complexity of the debate around the temporary worker visa known as the H-1B program for highly skilled foreign nationals. The debate against the H-1B visa program has been dominated by what feminist economist Naila Kabeer has argued are “coalitions of ‘powerful losers’ in the north seeking to claw back the gains made from international trade by ‘weak winners’ in the south” (Kabeer 2002). I argue that these metaphors are resonant in the debate over the H-1B visa program, where displaced American Information Technology (IT) workers conflate the role of Indian H-1B workers as both vulnerable victims of corporate greed and menacing threats to national prosperity and security, reinforcing both symbolic and institutional racism against this new category of Asian immigrant worker. Based on interviews with over 100 Indian H-1B workers, this paper challenges many of the assumptions about “indentured servitude,” and my findings suggest alternate policy alternatives to pitting the interests of “cheap Indian workers” against the interests of “Americans.”

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