Technology companies rely on foreign workers to fill skills gaps. Restrictions on immigration worry tech company leaders.
in technology, are
fearful of changes to
the foreign worker
By Craig Guillot
Uncertainty over President Donald Trump’s travel ban and the potential for change to the H-1B visa program has many companies contemplating the risks to foreign workers. New proposals could drastically change the visa program at a time when tech companies say there’s already a talent shortage.
At the same time, critics of the H-1B visa program, which is used for
professionals in specialty fields, say some companies are playing the system to
replace American workers with less costly foreign staff.
The debate is ongoing although it has heated up with the new administration’s
pronouncements, leaving companies that rely on H-1B workers with both
uncertainty and risk.
H-1BS ESSENTIAL TO SECURING TALENT, TECH INDUSTRY SAYS
Goldman Sachs estimates there are nearly one million H-1B visa holders
working in the U.S., accounting for up to 13 percent of the country’s tech
workforce. An H-1B visa is an employment-based, non-immigrant visa
category for temporary workers.
Employers must apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
(USCIS) on the worker’s behalf. Most applicants are required to hold at least
a bachelor’s degree or equivalent training and must be paid the prevailing
wage for the role.
Employers pay filing fees of between $1,570 to $2,320 per worker for
three-year visas that can be extended for up to six years. Of the 85,000 H-1Bs
offered annually by the USCIS, 20,000 are reserved for those with a master’s
degree or higher.
If the USCIS receives more than the number of petitions in the first five
business days of the annual filing system, it awards visas on a random lottery
system run by computer.
William Stock, an attorney with Klasko Immigration Law Partners
in Philadelphia, and president of the American Immigration Lawyers
Association, said companies have often used H-1Bs to fill roles in IT
infrastructure and software development that they otherwise haven’t been
able to fill.
According to Code.org, there are nearly a half-million open computing
EMPLOYERS ANTICIPATE CHANGE
jobs, yet only 43,000 Americans graduate from college with computer science
degrees annually. While many tech jobs can be outsourced overseas, Stock
said there’s still a strong need for talent to be onsite in the United States.
Companies of all sizes are evaluating the potential for changes in the system,
said Matthew Dunn, partner with Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel law firm.
While there are some steps President Trump could take on his own, Dunn said,
mass changes would likely need to be approved by Congress.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., recently
announced plans to introduce a bill that would require all employers seeking
H-1B visas to demonstrate “good faith
efforts” to find American workers first.
It would also do away with a lottery
system and require that employers
prioritize the top foreign students who
studied in the U.S.
Dunn said it could add pressure
for companies since they are already
challenged with obtaining the workers
“Right now, there are 85,000 H-1B
visas available each year and there are
over 200,000 applicants so the chance
It is difficult to contend with the
new “unpredictability of rules
that government may require
[employers] to follow.”
— Matthew Dunn, partner, Kramer Levin Naftalis &
• Immigration uncertainty makes
it difficult for companies to do
• The unpredictability of the travel
ban hits companies hard.
• Companies say there are not
enough Americans to fill open