President Trump’s meeting with Harley could shine light on this corporate immigration issue

President Donald Trump is slated to meet Thursday afternoon with executives from Harley Davidson, a company that has long proudly manufactured its heavyweight motorcycles in factories across the United States.

But Harley Davidson has outsourced a different type of work —information technology — that has thrust the company into the debate over high-skilled immigration.

Harley Davidson signed an agreement with Indian tech staffing giant Infosys in 2012 to take over its IT department. To handle the project, Infosys opened a new facility in Milwaukee, where Harley Davidson is based. About 125 positions were eliminated at Harley Davidson in the process — and workers who lost their job are now suing, claiming they were discriminated against in favor of South Asian employees.

According to the complaint, most of the workers Infosys brought on had H1B visas, which are intended for highly skilled fields in which there are a shortage of American workers. But the suit argues that there were plenty of qualified workers available: the ones who just lost their jobs at Harley Davidson.

Matthew 'Matt' Levatich, chief executive officer of Harley Davidson Inc.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Matthew ‘Matt’ Levatich, chief executive officer of Harley Davidson Inc.

Attorneys for the workers are seeking class certification. Infosys declined to comment. Harley Davidson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Infosys is “filling a disproportionately large percentage of its workforce with individuals of South Asian race … even when there are qualified individuals available in the United States,” the complaint states.

The suit underscores the potentially wide reach of Trump’s proposals to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. Though H1B visas have long been considered essential in Silicon Valley — Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerburg is one of the program’s most vocal supporters — the program’s ripple effects also extend to America’s heartland.

It is unclear if immigration will come up during Trump’s meeting with Harley Davidson on Thursday afternoon. But his administration has repeatedly criticized H1B visas as undercutting U.S. workers. On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggested that the H1B program could be the focus of a future executive order. Trump railed against the practice on the campaign trail, at one point calling it a “cheap labor program.”

Harley Davidson executives won’t be meeting with Trump alone. The meeting is slated to occur in the Roosevelt Room and is expected to include union leaders — who have been staunch supporters of tightening the H1B program.

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