What is the H-1B visa?
The H-1B visa is a guest worker program that allows U.S. companies to bring in highly-skilled foreign workers for specialized jobs. H-1B holders can legally work in the U.S. for three years, with the possibility of extensions and even permanent residency. The total number of visas issued each year is limited to 85,000. If the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives more H-1B applications than it can approve, the agency holds a lottery to randomly select which petitions it will process. For fiscal year 2018, the agency received 199,000 petitions for the available 85,000 visas.
What does the H-1B have to do with the tech industry?
According to a Goldman Sachs report, about 900,000 to a million H-1B visa holders reside in the U.S. and these H-1B workers occupy almost 13 percent of technology jobs. In the Silicon Valley, over 50% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) positions were held by foreign workers in 2016. Many of these foreigners had an H-1B visa. Based on data from the federal government, Google was approved for 2,500 H-1B workers and Apple was approved for nearly 2,000 in 2016. Foreign workers have a big presence in the Silicon Valley and have played a part in the tech sector’s growth, but not without controversy.
Why is there controversy surrounding the H-1B visa?
The controversy around the H-1B visa stems from the argument that foreign workers are replacing American ones. Those in favor of visa regulations argue that companies misuse the H-1B to hire cheap labor. They also argue that too many H-1B visas are issued to outsourcing firms. Both situations jeopardize employment and income opportunities for Americans. While not every company takes advantage of the H-1B program to minimize labor costs, there have been such cases. Examples are Disney and Southern California Edison. Both companies became involved in high-profile lawsuits for laying off hundreds of American IT workers for lower-paid H-1B replacements.
On the other side, H-1B supporters argue that the visa brings highly-skilled individuals to the U.S. that the country needs. Certain roles in both government and private sectors are in high demand, including software engineers and data scientists. H-1B supporters claim that the U.S. has a shortage of skills for these types of roles. Supporters also argue that bringing critical talent into the labor market sparks more innovation and productivity, which helps companies remain competitive.
How has the Trump administration responded to this?
In April 2017, President Trump signed an executive order called “Buy American and Hire American.” The order seeks to increase wages and employment rates for American workers. It also calls for more rigorous enforcement of immigration laws in order to protect the economic interests of domestic workers. Since the executive order went into effect, USCIS has tightened oversight on H-1B workers and H-1B petitions, and some lawyers even report an increase in visa denials. “Buy American and Hire American” will also advance policies to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest-paid job candidates.
What do tech workers in the Blind community have to say?