H-1B Visa Grants Shift from Outsourcers to US Tech Sector

H-1B Visa Grants Shift from Outsourcers to US Tech Sector

More H-1B visas are being granted to US tech companies, whereas India-based outsourcing firms are receiving fewer of them, according to an analysis of government data on 2017 H-1B allocations from the National Foundation for American Policy. This trend, the NFAP argues in its policy brief, “reflect[s] the strong demand for high-skilled talent” in the US and “would appear to undermine the argument that the federal government should impose new restrictions on H-1B visas.”

The Trump administration has indeed been determined to restrict the use of these visas, which are awarded to highly skilled foreign workers to fill gaps in the US labor market, as part of President Donald Trump’s overall anti-immigration posture. While only an act of Congress can fundamentally restructure of the program and Trump’s desired rule changes have not yet been enacted, the administration has subtly undermined it by suspending premium processing two years in a row, tightening approval standards, and proposing to end work authorization for H-4 visa holders, the spouses of H-1B workers (a plan the administration reaffirmed this week).

It is difficult to say with certainty, however, whether the shift observed in the NFAP’s research is a rebuke of the Trump administration’s crackdown or a consequence of it. It may reflect the changing strategies of major Indian outsourcing companies since Trump’s election, which portended a change in H-1B policy and made it riskier for these firms to rely on the visas. Infosys, India’s second-largest IT services and outsourcing company and one of the leading users H-1Bs, announced plans last year to hire 10,000 US citizen employees and open new innovation hubs throughout the US. Infosys said at the time that this decision predated the Trump administration, but it still serves to guard against a scenario in which the supply of H-1B visas was curtailed.

Some observers see the gravitation of H-1Bs away from outsourcing companies as a response to the Trump administration’s policies, or even a sign that these policies are working. Axios’s Stef Kight captured both sides of the debate in her reporting:

The other side: Shivendra Singh, Vice President of NASSCOM, which represents India’s IT industry, told Axios that India-based companies are using fewer H-1Bs due to changes in needed skills, more local hiring by U.S. companies, and the use of new technologies that require “more non-STEM, managerial-type talent that is more readily available in the U.S.”

Yes, but: Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for lower legal immigration levels, tells Axios that “these trends reflect an effort to eliminate large-scale abuses of the program… Not surprisingly, higher approval standards would produce an approval bias in favor of U.S.-based corporations.”

GeekWire’s Monica Nickelsburg, noting the 78 percent increase in the number of H-1Bs awarded to Amazon last year, hears from some Seattle-based immigration experts who also differ on whether Trump administration policy is driving this change:

Lola Zakharova, a Seattle immigration attorney who works with large corporate clients, said the shift is driven by federal policy. She attributes it to a law signed in 2015 that requires employers that have more than 50 percent of their employees working in the U.S. on an H-1B visa to pay an additional fee of $4,000 for certain H-1B petitions. “The price tag will be even higher if the employer has to respond to a request for additional evidence from the USCIS, which became a new normal,” she said. …

However, Doug Rand, co-founder of the immigration tech startup Boundless, doesn’t attribute the trend in H-1B visa approvals to Trump. Rand worked on immigration policy in President Barack Obama’s administration before launching Boundless. “This trend pre-dates the Trump Administration, which is still awarding H-1Bs by lottery (for now),” he said in an email. “This suggests that fundamental demand for H-1B visas is increasing for U.S. tech companies, and decreasing for Indian outsourcing firms.”