Facebook’s dilemma over hiring biases - GulfToday

Facebook’s dilemma over hiring biases


Mark Zuckerberg addresses a tech forum in New York. (File)

Facebook, the American digital social network giant, has agreed to pay a fine of US$4.75 million as fine and up to US$9.5 million to eligible victims who have faced discrimination in recruitment. The US Justice Department has alleged that Facebook overlooked US nationals, people who were granted asylum, refugees, and lawful permanent residents, and brought in foreign workers with special visas and for jobs with high salaries. Facebook has also been blamed for sponsoring the foreign workers for “green cards” to make them permanent workers.

Tech behemoths and digital platforms like Facebook defend the practice saying that there are no qualified engineers and programers in the United States and that is the reason they are forced to turn to qualified foreign techies.

While appreciating that Facebook is doing a good thing by applying for the workers, Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, says, “In principle, Facebook is doing a good thing by applying for green cards for its workers, but it has also learned how to game the system to avoid hiring US tech workers.” This is a contentious issue and there are hard statistics to prove the case either way. The issue must be settled as to how many Americans can afford to get a university engineering degree given the fact that university education is expensive, and most students are burdened with nearly lifetime burden of student debt. In many of the Asian countries, the state-supported university education makes higher education accessible to students from low, and middle, income backgrounds, and it is these students who the American tech companies hire. It is also possible that these foreign workers are paid much less than they would be obliged to do for a US worker. So, there is discrimination at many levels and on many fronts. Industry hiring then is not the only point of discrimination.

The settlement is considered the highest ever in the 335-year history of the anti-discrimination rules under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Justice Department is certain that the companies cannot get away with discriminatory hiring practices. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clark said, “Companies cannot set aside certain positions for temporary visa holders because of their citizenship and immigration status.”

There is then a genuine conflict of interest between the corporations and the government. The government must abide by the norms of justice and fair practice, and the corporations want to hire the best talent they can. The issue is not as black and white as it appears because the practice of discrimination is not confined to the big companies. It exists in the government as well as in small enterprises. And it is an issue that cannot be resolved easily. The government wants to make an example of the big companies when they violate the law, and hope that smaller companies would learn to keep to the law.

Facebook says it has agreed to the payment because it is engaged in evolving a fair hiring framework and to put in place anti-discrimination norms in its corporate practice.

The company said that it will continue to hire both from the US and from around the world, and that it would support its “internal community of highly skilled visa holders who are seeking permanent residence.” So, Facebook is not giving up its option of getting foreign talent.

As long as Facebook and other tech companies follow a transparent policy of hiring foreign talent, the government cannot force them to hire only from the available domestic pool.

The balance has to be struck between home and foreign talent.

Related articles