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But as educated workers in India are finding new opportunities, those in the U.S. feel the doors closing. Last week Bernie Lantz drove 1,400 miles from his home in Plano, Texas, to begin a new life in Utah. He is 58 years old, a bachelor, and had lived in the Dallas area for 24 years. "I'm leaving all my friends," he says with a sigh. "It's quite an upheaval." Lantz used to earn $80,000 a year as a troubleshooter for Sabre, a company based in Southlake, Texas, whose software powers airline-reservations systems. But over the past two years, Sabre has gradually standardized and has centralized its software service. As Sabre began to outsource its internal IT services, Lantz says, he became convinced that jobs like his were becoming endangered. He was laid off in December. (A company spokesman denies that Lantz's firing was related to outsourcing.)
Discouraged by a depressed job market in Dallas, Lantz realized he would have to do something else. In the fall he will begin teaching computer science at Utah State University in Logan, and in the meantime he has learned a lesson of his own: "Find a job that requires direct hands-on work on site," Lantz advises. "Anything that can be sent overseas is going to be sent overseas."
Pat Fluno, 53, of Orlando, Fla., says she, like Maglione, had to train her replacement a common practice in the domestic outsourcing industry when her data-processing unit at Germany-based Siemens was outsourced to India's Tata last year. "It's extremely insulting," she says. "The guy's sitting there doing my old job." After 10 months of looking, she is working again, but she had to take a $10,000 pay cut.
To protect domestic jobs, U.S. labor activists are pushing to limit the number of H-1B and L-1 visas granted to foreign workers. That would make it harder for offshore companies to have their employees working on site in the U.S. "Those programs were designed for a booming high-tech economy, not a busting high-tech economy," says Courtney of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers. Courtney and his allies are starting to get the attention of lawmakers. Several congressional committees have held hearings on the impact of offshore outsourcing on the U.S. economy, and lawmakers in five states have introduced bills that would limit or forbid filling government contracts through offshore outsourcing.
Stephanie Moore, a vice president of Forrester Research, says companies are concerned about the backlash but mainly because of the negative publicity. "The retail industry is very hush-hush about its offshoring," she says. But within the boardroom, such outsourcing enjoys wide support. In a June survey of 1,000 firms by Gartner Research, 80% said the backlash would have no effect on their plans.
The advantages, businesses say, are just too great to ignore. They begin with cost but don't end there. Jennifer Cotteleer, vice president of Phase Forward, a Waltham, Mass., company that designs software for measuring clinical-trials data for drug companies, has for the past two years used offshore employees from Cognizant to customize the application for specific drug trials. Lately she has been relying on their expertise to develop even more-tailored programming. "I certainly couldn't have grown this fast without them," Cotteleer says. Her company is growing 30% annually, on track to reach $65 million in revenue this year. "What I've been able to do in very tough economic times is manage very directly to my margins," she says. "I'm providing job security for the workers I do have."
Creative use of offshore outsourcing, says Debashish Sinha of Gartner Research, offers benefits that outweigh the direct loss of jobs. In an economy that has shed 2 million jobs over two years, he contends, the 200,000 that have moved overseas are less significant than the potential for cost savings and strategic growth. But he concedes that "when you're a laid-off employee who can't find a job, that's hard to understand."