Nelson wants probe into reported Catalina outsourcing

Sen. Bill Nelson has asked the Department of Labor to expand its probe into possible abuses of the foreign worker visa program after a FOX 13 report that approximately 50 workers of St. Petersburg-based Catalina Marketing will be replaced by employees from an outsourcing company.

He also announced plans to introduce legislation that would reign in which types of jobs qualify for the program, which was intended for highly specialized foreign workers.

"If that's being used for routine work kind of jobs and not a specialty kind of occupation, it's being abused," he said at a Tuesday press conference.

Current IT workers are faced with training their foreign replacements, according to several Catalina employees who spoke to FOX 13.

"I want you to be aware of a new media report on another company in Florida using an outsourcing firm that is replacing some employees with foreign workers," Nelson (D-FL) wrote in a letter to Labor Department Secretary Thomas Perez. "This underscores the need for a thorough inquiry into a program meant to bring more high-skilled workers to the U.S. in fields where there are labor shortages."

Catalina confirmed the IT "transition," but wouldn't answer any questions, including how many of the new positions, which will be filled through Mindtree, will rely on foreign worker visas.

Mindtree has not responded to requests for comment.

Recent New York Times reports about similar layoffs at Disney prompted renewed debate about the H1-B Visa program.

Each year, 85,000 temporary visas are available for companies to request through the federal program, which was intended to allow U.S. companies to fill gaps in highly specialized labor with foreign workers.

Some say IT positions don't fall into that category.

News of the Disney layoffs prompted Nelson to ask the federal Department of Homeland Security to investigate the visa program. A week later, the Labor Department launched a similar investigation into Southern California Edison's use of the program, after several senators requested the probe.

Since then, the two agencies have agreed to work together on the issue, according to Nelson's office.