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Online chat with Obama has big impact on Texas family

By Anna M. Tinsley, McClatchy Newspapers –

FORT WORTH, Texas — Jennifer Wedel’s life has turned upside down since Monday.

That’s when she chatted online with President Barack Obama about a controversial program to hire highly skilled foreign workers — and the president ended up asking for her husband’s resume.

(PHOTO: Jennifer Wedel, center, with her 14-year-old daughter Erika Wedel, left, and her 7-year-old daughter Jada Wedel pose for portrait after Jennifer chatted with President Obama via Google from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, January 30, 2012.)

Since then, she said, her phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from news media, recruiters, the Texas Workforce Commission and various companies about possible job opportunities for her husband, Darin.

Now, three years after he lost his job as a semiconductor engineer at Texas Instruments, she’s hopeful that he will find a new one soon.

“We’ve been praying for this to happen for three years,” said Wedel, 29. “Did we think the president would have to get involved? No. As for why he chose this way, maybe God will enlighten me on that in the future. But I’m very optimistic.”

Wedel, a mother of two who works at an insurance agency, participated in a live video chat with Obama using the “hangout” feature on Google Plus.

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

Obama said industry leaders have told him that the U.S. doesn’t have enough of certain kinds of high-tech engineers to meet its needs. Wedel interrupted him to say that his answer didn’t match what her husband is seeing in the real world.

“If you send me your husband’s resume, I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening right there,” Obama told her. “The word we’re getting is somebody in that high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away. And the H-1B should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field.”

The Wedels got his resume to the White House, and companies from around the country have called. Darin had to create a spreadsheet to keep all the calls straight. The problem, Wedel said, is that the family can’t move.

“We are a blended family, and there’s no way due to custody reasons that we can move out of the area,” she said. “He can travel and we’re willing to do that, but we can’t go to a different state or even to Austin or Houston.”

Darin has received calls from CEOs in Austin, recruiters offering out-of-state jobs and the White House, which is aiding his job hunt.

His wife, who believes that he will find a job in the next month or so, said the attention showered on the family is a bit overwhelming.

“This isn’t our life,” she said, adding that the family turned down a chance to go on the “Today’’ show. “So much is happening in our lives right now.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney fielded questions about Wedel and her husband’s resume during a recent briefing.

“The exchange reflected the president’s sincere interest and concern in the experiences of folks out in the country and how they’re dealing with what remains a very tough economy, even as we continue the recovery that we’ve been engaged in now for 10 months, that there are a lot of folks out there who are looking for work,” he said.

Wedel said she hopes that her conversation with the president will help not just her family but countless unemployed workers across the country as well.

“We’re just one person,” she said. “In my email inbox, I’m getting flooded with notes from people in our exact situation, from all over the United States.

“I wish we could get everyone a job who needs one.”

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