Texas engineer, whose wife sent Obama his résumé, still unemployed

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramApril 9, 2012 

FORT WORTH — More than two months after President Barack Obama asked for Darin Wedel's résumé, the phone is quiet, e-mails are no longer flooding in and the long-sought-after job interviews -- which had begun to be scheduled -- have petered out.

"Not even recruiting companies are calling anymore," said Jennifer Wedel, the Fort Worth mother of two who chatted online this year with Obama about her out-of-work husband.

She says his job search has been hurt by a program to hire skilled foreign workers.

It's been more than three years since Darin Wedel lost his job as a semiconductor engineer at Texas Instruments.

But the family had newfound hope after Jennifer Wedel participated in a Jan. 30 video chat with the president using the "hangout" feature on Google Plus.

She asked the president why the government issues and extends H-1B visas to foreign workers when highly skilled Americans like her husband can't find full-time work.

Obama, who said industry leaders have told him that the U.S. doesn't have enough high-tech engineers to meet its needs, ended up asking for Darin Wedel's résumé.

For weeks after that, the family's telephone rang constantly with calls from recruiters, headhunters, the news media, the Texas Workforce Commission, the White House, and out-of-town and out-of-state companies about possible job opportunities.

"I did feel we got our hopes up a little," Jennifer Wedel said last week. "I mean, he's the POTUS. But it seems not even the leader of our country can get [Darin] a job."

Shortly after Jennifer Wedel talked with the president, the family was overwhelmed with attention.

Many calls came from out-of-state companies, as well as companies throughout Texas. But Darin's work choices are limited to North Texas because of a custody agreement for one of his two daughters that prevents him from moving away.

Even so, the family thought a new job was right around the corner, possibly weeks away.

But the phone calls lessened, and now they have stopped.

Jennifer Wedel said the whole reason she participated in the chat was to draw attention to her concern about H-1B visas, which she believes are preventing workers like her husband from getting hired.

Supporters say this type of visa is needed to fill jobs that otherwise might be left vacant. Critics say that there's no worker shortage, that countless highly skilled U.S. workers are unemployed and that companies are choosing to hire foreign workers at lower salaries through the program.

Jennifer Wedel's conversation with the president prompted Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to send Obama a letter asking him to support a bill geared to reform the visa program.

"Your response to Ms. Wedel leads me to believe that you don't understand the plight of many unemployed high-skilled Americans," the letter said.

"Mr. Wedel's situation is all too common. Thousands of qualified Americans remain out of work while companies are incentivized to import foreign workers. I'm concerned that you're hearing only one side of the story -- from businesses who claim that there are better and brighter people abroad."

After Darin Wedel was laid off, Jennifer Wedel went to work at an insurance agency, hoping to help support the family while her husband looked for a job.

Now, more than two months after her chat with the president, she has changed her approach. She is turning to social media to try to find a higher-paying job for herself to better support her family.

"We are doing fine," she said. "Unless reform comes to the H-1B program, I'm afraid we are in a place where 'our' family roles are changed.

"This is our permanent job [situation] now. It's unfortunate, but we will overcome," she said. "We didn't do the interview with the president to get a job. We did it to get a voice for so many Americans who, like my husband, are in the very same situation."

To read more, visit www.star-telegram.com.

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