Business, Technology Security

H-1B Visas Generate Training Dollars for US


Some of the fees for foreign worker H-1B visas go into skills retraining via the H-1B Technical Skills Training Grant program. The monies go to train workers for positions in aerospace, bioengineering, computer, electrical, engineering, and other technical occupations. Kansas recently got $5 million, so did Midlands Tech in South Carolina.

The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit, public policy organization in Washington D.C. conducted a study of the H-1B program. It found that regions with the heaviest demand for H-1B workers aren?t the regions that receive the most training grants funded by the associated fees.

Seattle is one of Top 10 places for Technology workers

For example, Seattle Washington was ninth in H-1B visa requests over the past two years, due in part to hiring by tech companies Microsoft, Amazon, and T-Mobile. However, the area ranked 64th per capita in grant dollars received since 2001. On the other hand, the University of Columbia is a major H-1B employer and the South Carolina community was one of the top 10 nationwide to receive visa grant money.

It costs a company between $1,500 and $5,500 to apply for H-1B visas for foreigners. H1-B applicants must have at least a bachelor?s degree. Visas are good for three years with an optional extension up to six years. The portion of the fees earmarked for funding training programs is designed to increase the supply of US workers in jobs now being filled by foreigners.

Microsoft’s senior director of education and workforce, Bill Kamela, illustrates their situation. The company has more than 3,000 jobs open in the United States in hard-to-fill computer-science or engineering disciplines. Finding talent with degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is difficult. "We need to make STEM undergraduate and graduate degrees more enticing to young people," Kamela said. According to the Brookings study, Asia produces more than 50 percent of the world’s engineering bachelor’s degrees, Europe 17 percent, and the US only 4 percent.

The visa grants are designed to increase US participation. The annual salary should also be motivation to get that sheepskin. Washington-state-based employers were paying about $92,000/yr for H-1B computer-software engineers.

One of original job postings for computer science and engineering majors
One of original job postings for computer science and engineering majors

Silicon Valley in California hired almost 15,000 foreign workers in the survey period 2010-2011. That?s a lot of green card?ers, yet it?s only 4.6 percent of all the H-1B visa workers in the US. All the West Coast metropolitan areas together account for 15.10 percent while metropolitan areas on the East Coast are responsible for 28.60 percent with New York/ Northern New Jersey leading the pack at 16.3 percent. The Tech Valley which runs from the Canadian border towards New York City probably contributed in large part to those numbers.

The maximum number of H-1B visas issued each year is 85,000, of which 20,000 are earmarked for workers who have a graduate degree from a US university. Companies who hit the cap often try to work around it with an L-1B.

Indian PassportAlthough half of H-1B visas go for computer occupations, it?s not just IT companies using out-of-country citizens to fill US jobs. Universities, health care facilities, retail, financial, and manufacturing companies give jobs to foreigners. For example, Cummins Inc., an engine manufacturing company in Columbus, Indiana and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota bring H-1B workers into the US. The reason commonly given for hiring foreign workers is a lack of high skilled labor in the local marketplace. Nearly 80 percent of employer requests were for workers in STEM occupations.

Where do the H-1B recipients come from? Anyone familiar with the computer industry can answer that. India had the highest number of H-1B recipients in 2011, 58 percent, followed by China at 8.8 percent and surprisingly Canada at 3.5 percent.

To help foreigners locate companies who might hire them, a website with the quirky but obvious name Me Likes H1B lists potential employers. They instruct interested parties that after graduating, the next step for US international students is to find a company that sponsors H-1B and eventually apply for a Green Card. The site provides a free search of employers who have previously applied for H-1B visas.

During fiscal year 2011, US employers filed 358,857 labor certifications for H-1B Visa: 307,936 were certified, 29,173 were denied, and 10,152 were withdrawn.