Demand for the H-1B visa for skilled foreign workers coming to live and work temporarily in the United States has been exploding in recent years. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported that during the 2015 filing period, it received almost 233,000 applications for the H-1B visa. That number is nearly double the 124,000 H-1B visa applications received by USCIS in 2013 and up starkly from the 172,500 applications filed in 2014. Only a maximum of 85,000 H-1B visas will be awarded to foreign workers owing to a federally mandated cap of 65,000 visas for each fiscal year; the first 20,000 applicants with a U.S. master’s degree are accepted without counting against this cap.
There is evidence to suggest that the H-1B visa program for skilled workers has proven itself effective in helping the U.S. economy. The H-1B visa is intended to enable companies to hire skilled workers where there is no pool of talent capable of filling a new job. Demand for H-1B visa workers is highest in metropolitan areas where tech sector activity is heavy and where unemployment for engineers is already low, places such as New York City, Silicon Valley, Boston and Chicago, according to the Harvard Business Review. Further, those jobs exhibit stronger wage growth than jobs taken by native workers, at least in part because of wage requirements mandating a high wage for H-1B workers, but that still proves that American businesses are willing to pay more for talent.
Exports and foreign markets are also of increasing importance to American businesses. U.S. exports hit a record $2.35 trillion in 2014, having increased by more than $760 billion since 2009 according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. There is some anecdotal evidence which suggests that foreign workers have shown some ability in improving foreign sales for U.S. companies by being more knowledgeable of the economies in which American businesses want to compete.
Of course, if we’re to explore the good inherent in the H-1B visa program, we must also expose the bad and speak to the at-times heartbreaking effects of this program on American workers, especially in instances where alleged abuses of the H-1B visa are involved. Large American companies like Disney (NYSE:DIS) and Toys “R” Us have been accused in recent months of using workers coming over on H-1B visas to aid in the outsourcing of American jobs. In some cases, there are stories of employees being shadowed by foreign employees whose only job was to copy everything the U.S. employee was doing, raising questions over the skill levels those workers are bringing here. The New York Times quotes unnamed sources in an article from last September indicating that American companies were using these foreign workers to transfer knowledge to sites in India or elsewhere and then laying off the American counterparts.
The H-1B visa is coming under the media crosshairs during the current election cycle. Here at IPWatchdog, we’ve already taken a look at the contributions of immigrant inventors to American innovation. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be running a series of posts to deeply explore this issue and how these workers affect both the American economy as well as U.S. employees.