Tech Braces for H-1B Work Visa Overhaul

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Trump administration has drafted an executive order to overhaul the H-1B work-visa programs used by technology companies like Microsoft, Amazon & Apple to hire tens of thousands of overseas workers each year.  The order, if signed, would require employers to give priority to the most highly paid H-1B workers.  U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) has introduced a similar bill to give preference to companies that can pay the highest salaries. If implemented, the order and the bill can force tech giants to give more priority to American workers, while reserving H-1B for the most qualified, highest paid foreign specialists.

The H-1B visas let US companies bring in immigrants with “highly specialized knowledge” in specialty occupations including computer programmers, scientists, engineers. Even fashion models can be eligible for an H-1B visa; First Lady Melania Trump held it.

Proponents of the visa program claim that it helps US companies stay competitive on the global market by filling in job openings for which there aren’t enough highly-skilled Americans available. Opponents say there are more highly skilled Americans than the tech companies claim and the companies abuse the program in order to save money by going for cheaper foreign labor instead of well-qualified American workers.

In 2016, 236,000 people applied for H-1B visas for fiscal year 2017, up from 233,000 applicants the year before. California employers sponsored more than 119,000 H-1B petitions for the year 2017, the most in the country. Most of the visas go to Indian nationals (65.3% in FY 2014). Chinese are in a distant second place at 8.2%, followed by Canadians – 2.8%.

Every year, USCIS caps spots at 65,000, with 20,000 reserved for those with master’s degrees or higher. Since there are always more applicants than visas available, the USCIS uses a computer-run random lottery system to award visas.

Tech companies sponsor a lot of H-1B workers, but consulting and outsourcing firms tend to be more active in that regard. The top H-1B sponsor in the country for fiscal year 2017 is Infosys, an Indian consulting and IT services firm.  Top consulting and outsourcing firms gave H-1B employees salaries averaging about $84,000. Tech giants Amazon, Microsoft and Google pay H-1B workers more than $127,000 on average.

Indian outsourcing firms are, thus, expected to take the biggest hit if the new changes are implemented. However, American tech giants will have to take a loss as well.

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