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Despite H-1B lottery, offshore firms dominate visa use

Patrick Thibodeau, Sharon Machlis | July 31, 2015
Offshore outsourcing firms that do most of their work in India remain the largest users of the H-1B visa for computer-related jobs, seemingly unaffected by the odds of the visa lottery, according to new data.

The lottery may be creating an arms race of sorts. In the 2014 fiscal year, the U.S. received 124,000 H-1B visa petitions; in 2015, the number reached 172,000 and for the 2016 fiscal year (the lottery drawing that was held this past April), the U.S. received 233,000 visa petitions.

There may be 300,000 visa petitions or more next year, said former Rep. Bruce Morrison (D-Conn.), who was the author of the 1990 immigration legislation that created the H-1B visa. He sees what's going on as a form of "ballot-box stuffing."

"They are buying more tickets [H-1B visa applications] because the percentage of winning has gone down -- that's the way any lottery works," said Morrison. Applicants can do this under the law, which allows firms to apply for visas even for someone who is not an employee, he said.

Morrison, who has represented the IEEE, says one fix is to give firms that aren't H-1B dependent preference or first crack at a visa. H-1B dependent is a legal classification that applies to firms that have 15 percent or more of their workers on this temporary, non-immigrant visa. That's a change the White House could make through regulation, he said.

Another remedy is to give preference to those firms that are paying the highest salaries to the visa workers, said Morrison.

The use of the H-1B visa as an offshore vehicle was not foreseen when the law was adopted 25 years ago, said Morrison. But through the clever use of rules governing the visa, the H-1B has become "a system for displacing American workers," he said.

On the likelihood that a large number of firms submitted only one petition, Costa said that perhaps it makes sense "to allow each employer with an accepted petition to get at least one of their H-1B workers, before giving a second to any company, because companies like Infosys and Tata are likely benefiting from submitting thousands of petitions, which increases their chances of getting picked in the lottery, while smaller companies that just need one or two H-1B workers are losing out altogether," he said.

The data include those H-1B applicants approved between Oct. 1, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2014 for new employment in computer-related jobs only. This is the first time we have data broken down by job type, via a federal Freedom of Information Act request. These totals will likely be lower than H-1B totals reported in prior years when Computerworld just had overall totals for all employment categories.


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