CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - His birthplace in a small village outside Mumbai, India, in a home with no running water or electricity, is a far cry from the technology-filled cubicles Pete Tapaskar has come to know well as an information technology (IT) worker.
Tapaskar’s journey from India to the United States through Canada came courtesy of an H1B immigrant visa.
“H1B has been a great contributor for the innovation of America,” Tapaskar told VOA.
Now an American citizen who lives in suburban Chicago, Tapaskar has spent the past 15 years working for the IT company ProSoft as a manager in their immigration program.
Most of the people Tapaskar has hired have come from India, but he said hiring those workers has not always been ideal.
“It would be cheaper for us to hire Americans where they are available,” he said, “because bringing them from outside, we have to go through the lengthy H1B process and then wait for (a) longer time, and by that time, demand would have changed.”
But Tapaskar says there aren’t enough Americans with experience to fill the jobs.
“We are not able to employ Americans fast enough into the job market to meet the challenges,” he said.
1.4 million jobs unfilled
Richard Burke is CEO of Chicago-based Envoy Global, which sells services to U.S. companies looking to hire foreign workers.
“The U.S. Department of Labor has said 1.4 million unfilled software development — software development alone — 1.4 million unfilled jobs by 2020. So the skills gap is real,” Burke said.
“Envoy helps companies with their visa and immigration needs,” he told VOA from his desk situated in the same workspace as many of his employees. “What we do is help companies bring talented foreign nationals into the country, we help companies deploy their own employees overseas to pursue opportunity, and we provide software that makes reporting and compliance much easier.”
Burke said the skills gap that drives the demand for foreign workers exists because not enough Americans are receiving education or training in high demand jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also called STEM fields, and many foreign students educated in the U.S. aren’t staying to work.
“Every year American universities graduate over 300,000 foreign nationals with STEM degrees. We don’t give them any opportunities to stay,” he said. “So what is the wisdom of a policy when we know we have a skills gap, when we know we are graduating the best and brightest — 300,000 — and sending them home to compete with us.”
During a recent visit to Wisconsin, President Donald Trump announced he was signing an Executive Order reviewing the H1B visa process. About 85,000 workers come to the United States annually through the program, far fewer than the number of jobs U.S.-based companies say they need experienced technology workers to fill.
Burke hopes the review will lead to an increase in the number of visas issued, to fill the skills gap before the jobs flee the U.S.
“Work is mobile,” Burke said. “Companies are telling us and they are saying to one another, ‘If I can’t get the work done here, I’ll just move it overseas.’”
Which is what happened to Tapaskar, the IT worker.
His employer, ProSoft, was sold to another company, which outsourced his specific job to India, Tapaskar said.
After 15 years, he’s starting over with a new company and works to help other IT workers as the president of the American Small and Medium IT Employers Association (ASMITEA).
Hope for review
Tapaskar said he supports Trump’s Executive Order, hoping it helps curb any misuse of the program. But he doesn’t want to see those visas only going to companies offering the highest salaries.
“It should be made available for all the sectors,” he told VOA. “(It) should be linked with training programs. America really lacks the training infrastructure at the moment.”
This year, U.S. Immigration officials report almost 200,000 petitions were filed for the 85,000 available H1B visas during the lottery period that ended in April.