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H-1B at 20: How the 'tech worker visa' is remaking IT

Patrick Thibodeau | Nov. 17, 2010
This news analysis is part of our special report on the 20th anniversary of the H-1B visa, which also includes first-person accounts from five IT workers who have been directly affected by the H-1B program and visual and interactive tools to help you analyze H-1B visa data.

The companies include Broadgate Inc. in Troy, Mich., which counts 21 H-1B visa holders among its 46 IT workers; Logic Planet Inc. in Edison, N.J., which employs 95 IT workers, including 89 on H-1B visas; and DVR Softek Inc., also in Edison, N.J., which says that 45 of its 50 tech workers hold H-1B visas. Both Broadgate and Logic Planet hired students from Stratford, and from other schools as well, according to the government's listing.

The rise of these small IT consulting and services firms that almost exclusively employ foreign workers has led to increased scrutiny of H-1B applications for companies of all size. Two years ago, the USCIS used a random sample of 246 cases drawn from a pool of nearly 100,000 and found 51 with problems ranging from fraud to "technical violations," which can be something as small as a mistake in the application.

The findings, however, were enough to prompt the USCIS to increase its scrutiny of H-1B visa applications through "request for evidence" -- proof that the job for the visa worker is a real one. Immigration attorneys say those requests can be extensive and may even include photographs of a future employee's workspace and the schematics of the building in which the office is located.

Marko C. Maglich, an attorney at White & Case LLP who specializes in labor, employment and immigration law, says petitions can be as thick as five inches, and hiring firms have to prove that there is indeed a bona fide company. "There is going to be more resistance now," he says.

The H-1B gets political

Some argue that Congress has to make changes to the visa program that not only increase oversight, but also do more to protect U.S. jobs. In its report, the Economic Policy Institute contended that policy changes to the H-1B program could retain tens of thousands of jobs for U.S. workers.

Compete America, which represents industry groups and universities that support the H-1B visa, dismissed the report and said the "overwhelming weight of the evidence shows that highly educated foreign-born professionals benefit the U.S. economy."

But the recession and rise of the offshoring of IT and other services made the jobs shift a top political issue in the most recent national election, and a prominent one in some races, particularly in the contest in California between U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, and her Republican challenger, former Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) Chief Executive Carly Fiorina.

 

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