News / Economy

H-1B Visa Lottery to Determine Fate for Thousands of Tech Workers

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Ira MellmanTerry Wing
The U.S. government has held its annual lottery for H-1B visas and the lucky 85,000 winners (and their employers) will be notified soon.

The winners, from among more than 172,000 foreign citizen applicants, will be granted three-year visas to work for companies who have already agreed to sponsor them.

Most of these potential workers are already here.  More often than not, they are recent graduates from U.S. universities with a bachelor’s degree or higher in technical fields requiring a highly-specialized knowledge.

Typically, these specialty fields include IT, engineering, and science. 

The program has been in existence since Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990.  The law currently limits the number of visas to 85,000 each year.

“This year we met the Congressionally-mandated cap within the first week; last year we met it within the first week,” said spokesman Bill Wright of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  He notes it has become more competitive every year.

Still, Wright said potential foreign employees should not be discouraged.

“I would prepare well in advance – and employers should be prepared as well,” he said.

The next deadline is April 1, 2015, and Wright advises a good place to start is the USCIS website.

U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch thinks the program falls short.  He contends even more foreign workers should be given visas. 

“Here we are four months into the year, yet we are closing the door on highly-skilled foreign workers, many of whom are American-trained.  And then we push them out of our country because of stupid laws,” Hatch said in an interview with VOA.

“These are people that we educated here, who want to stay here and work in their fields of expertise. They want to help American companies grow the American economy,” he added. 

Hatch said U.S.-based companies tell him there is a huge need for graduates in science, technology, engineering and math – the so-called STEM fields.

“What you see and hear from the tech community is that there are not enough Americans trained and ready to fill these jobs," he said. "We can’t continue to hope that American companies won’t move these jobs overseas.”

Hatch has introduced the Senate's bipartisan Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, a law that would increase the cap in the H-1B program to as many as 300,000 foreign workers.

“Our proposal will allow them to stay here, and down the line – if I had my way – give them the opportunity to apply for citizenship,” he said.  “If I had my way, we’d be much more open to immigration.  There’s a lot of reason for us to do this.”

Because employers may petition for permanent residence for their H-1B employees, the visa is sometimes described as a “bridge to immigration” that will keep the smartest foreign STEM workers in the U.S. permanently and thus, the argument goes, improve the nation’s competitiveness.
 
A number of studies dispute the claims from industry that Hatch cites about the shortage of American STEM graduates.  David North, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, offers figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Education to show that America has more high-tech college graduates than needed to fill high-tech jobs.
 
So who’s right?  The arguments suggest it all depends on how you crunch the numbers.  The business-friendly Wall Street Journal provides some believable insight, noting high-tech businesses want to continue to staff their operations “with Indian expatriates who earn significantly less than their American counterparts.”

VOA found more than a dozen studies that charge the visa program serves as a subsidy for corporations, paying their H-1B employees less than the prevailing wage required by law.

Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, is blunt in his criticism of the H-1B visa program.  He calls it a program to hire foreign workers rather than Americans.  
 
“Rather than keeping jobs from leaving our shores, the H-1B does the opposite, by facilitating offshoring and providing employers with cheap, temporary labor – while reducing job opportunities for American high-tech workers in the process,” said Hira in a 2013 blog he wrote for the Economic Policy Institute.

At look at the top 10 H-1B employers in 2013 shows a list comprising some of the largest IT consulting firms in the world. 
 
Wipro Limited 102,218
iGate Technologies, Inc. 57,735
Syntel Consultin, Inc. 44,280
Syntel, Inc. 41,096
Infosys Limited 39,944
Cognizant Technology Solutions 33,065
PriceWaterhouseCoopers 29,084
Tata Consultancy Services, Ltd 21,220
Deloitte Consulting, LLP 19,146
Mphasis Corporation 18,282

Further examination shows most of their employees are based in India.

Whether the H-1B visa program is good for the United States is a matter of opinion.  But the large number of foreign workers wishing to obtain an H-1B visa does argue for the huge desire to work in the United States. 

Being about to learn a job in the United States, then have the option of applying for citizenship or take the job back home in a few years is a pretty good deal.

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by: econdataus from: Silicon Valley
April 22, 2014 12:44 AM
@john80224, I've posted the number of new H-1B visas approved for the top firms at http://econdataus.com/h1binfo.htm . As can be seen, the top firms are dominated by outsourcing firms. Their numbers dropped relatively low in 2009 and 2010, possibly due to the financial crisis, but have exploded the past two years. I have included links to the other H-1B visa data that I previously mentioned at the bottom of that page and will likely link all future H-1B visa related info to that page.

by: Thu Thi Nguyen from: Danang Vietnam
April 20, 2014 1:38 AM
I would like to go to work in united state

by: leng dany from: siem reap town cambodia
April 19, 2014 11:37 PM
How can we get this good opportunity ?

by: pao sreytoch from: cambodia
April 19, 2014 10:54 PM
I think,it's a good opportunity ,but I would like to know about the way to apply that job.can you show me about the clearly applying form?
In Response

by: Ranjit from: Hyderabad
April 22, 2014 5:02 AM
you can get all information in redbustous or immihelp websites

by: Vanda Sok from: Phnom Penh of Cambodia
April 19, 2014 10:52 PM
How to apply to work there?

by: Shir from: Kabul
April 18, 2014 2:22 AM
Nice shot

by: mam kunpidor from: Phnom penh
April 17, 2014 10:43 PM
How can i apply this job?

by: shahab khan from: pakistan (swat)
April 17, 2014 10:42 PM
This is great oppertunity for us thank u

by: econdataus from: Silicon Valley
April 17, 2014 3:59 AM
@john80224, I agree very much about following the money. Yesterday, I posted a comment at http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/06/its-not-about-skills-shortages/ that references a Brookings study that, contrary to nearly every other study I've seen, claims that H-1B workers are generally paid MORE than U.S.-born workers. The post by Professor Norm Matloff that I reference points out serious problems with this study and the fact that Microsoft is a major contributor to Brookings. For similar reasons, I have big problems with our system for funding campaigns under which politicians are totally dependent on big-money contributors for their financial survival. As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!".

I agree that the chart is in the article is the first step in the truth of the visa's use. To see a number of similar stories, just google "companies with most h-1b visa" (with or without the quotes). I've also posted links to a number of articles describing how the "skills gap" is overstated at http://econdataus.com/skillsgap.html .

I work as a programmer in Silicon Valley and I think that the misuse of H-1B visas and related policies are having an insidious effect. I used to share my knowledge freely with all of my co-workers and managers. Now, I usually just share what is required. That's especially the case with our overseas office to which most of our jobs have been outsourced. I used to feel that I had a strong interest in seeing our American companies remain strong. Of course, I know that they are still the only ones likely to hire me. However, I wonder if they will only start treating their American workers better when their overseas competition becomes strong enough to grab up the cheap labor that they're now dependent on. That will also be when THEIR jobs start getting outsourced, so to speak. Finally, this likely does have some affect on our supply of STEM workers. Years ago, I would recommend that any young person with a strong technical background go into computers. I still think computers is a great thing to learn but would now recommend that young people hedge their bets by leaning toward finance, economics, or some other field where they could use computer skills but hopefully not be quite so exposed to cheap labor.

Finally, I do want to stress that I'm not bashing H-1B workers. They are likely not told anything about these controversies when they are hired. And, of course, anyone who becomes a citizen is entitled to the full rights of any other citizen. Also, as you said, I don't condemn companies for attempting to make money. However, I do oppose, if not condemn, what seems to be a cynical misuse of our political system and an unwillingness to debate the issues openly. If someone insists on putting forward unsourced numbers and arguments that can't survive open debate, they likely are not very good numbers/arguments. I'm reminded of a few lines from James McMurtry's "We can't make it here" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbWRfBZY-ng , especially about 3 minutes in.
In Response

by: john80224 from: Denver, CO
April 17, 2014 12:50 PM
Wow, you get this! Thank you for getting involved.

It's sad we need to keep restating this, but I wholeheartedly agree that this isn't about the foreign workers, racism, xenophobia or whatever other false trail we may be pigeon-holed into. It is about national policy being tipped to the detriment of the citizens it's supposed to represent. It is about being discriminated against in my own country for having had the misfortune of being born here.

The campaign of mis- and disinformation that relies so heavily on the ignorance of the masses is downright shameful. To your point about numbers, I can't estimate how many times I see numbers that seem impressive on first glance being presented without context. Case in point, this lamenting a shortage of visas based on number of applications. The immediate conclusion in a vacuum might be, "Wow, we don't have enough." Factor in where those largely go, why they fill out so many applications and that requests for a subcategory of a resource do not necessarily corelate to a lack of that overall resource and the picture changes.

by: Bolen Thy from: Soung
April 17, 2014 3:33 AM
I interest
In Response

by: teamhellraiders from: india
April 30, 2014 8:28 AM
USA can sell there product all over the world, with big margin; they should allow to have immigrants or else rest of the world lose buying power...!
In Response

by: econdataus from: Silicon Valley
April 18, 2014 5:07 AM
I am likewise amazed at the amount of misinformation and basically bad data that is out there. I originally started my budget and economic website at http://econdataus.com/budget.html because of large amount of bad data that I saw in public debate. Of course, you eventually have to build on the data to reach opinions on actual policies. But it seemed like the first step (and the easiest for me as a math major) was to strive to get the data as correct as possible. Also, I consider it critical to give easily verifiable sources for the data. As a rule, I ignore unsourced data or, at best, consider an interesting avenue for future study.

I agree that lamenting a shortage of visas based on number of applications is deeply flawed. It signifies that there is a strong DESIRE for visas, not a strong NEED. That desire may simply be for cheap labor, regardless of how many Americans it deprives of jobs. Or, since the visa process involves a lottery, companies may apply for more positions than they want, knowing that many of them won't be filled.

Anyhow, thanks for the comments. I've posted some related data at http://econdataus.com/svworkers.html and http://econdataus.com/skillsgap.html and will likely link in other data to one or both pages as I do more research.
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