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NYT: How Big Business Games H-1B Visa Program

Large international outsourcing firms are manipulating the federal H-1B visa program by flooding the system with tens of thousands of applications, crowding out the smaller number applications made by many small American companies, according to a report by Julia Preston in the New York Times.

“The H-1B program is critical as a way for employers to fill skill-gaps and for really talented people to come to the United States,” Howard University professor Ronil Hira said in an interview with the Times. But “the outsourcing companies are squeezing out legitimate users of the program” he said, and are also “pushing [professional] jobs offshore.”

American companies like Southern California Edison, Harley Davidson, Intel, Disney and others are involved in the H-1B visa program because they use the foreign graduates supplied by the outsourcing companies to perform back-office professional jobs sought by American graduates. Many American employees have complained that Americans firms have forced them to train their cheaper foreign replacements.

This H-1B manipulation was discovered recently by Théo Négri, a young software-engineer from France, whose small American employer couldn’t get him a visa because of the many visa applications filed by a slew of outsourcing companies, many with headquartered in India.

Each year, the government hands out roughly 85,000 H-1B visas by lottery.

Big international companies can afford to hire lawyers to submit many applications–in effect, buying many tickets to the H-1B lottery–on behalf of individuals in a large pool of interchangeable foreign graduates. But smaller U.S. companies can afford only a few tickets to the H-1B lottery, so they have a smaller chance of getting a visa for each of the specific foreign professionals that they want to import.

In 2015, roughly 233,000 applications were received in seven days. Only one-third of the applications won a H-1B visa.

One of the big companies that wins many visas is the India-based outsourcing giant, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). In 2014, that company applied for 14,000 H-1B work permits, and won visas for 5,650 foreign professionals. Most of those imports were subsequently sent to work under low-price contracts at name-brand Americans firms.

Each foreign guest-worker can stay for six years, and can work in a wide range of professional jobs, including medicine, business, engineering, academia, design and computer-technology.

Federal records showed the top 20 companies took nearly 40 percent of the visas available, while more than 10,000 other employers received far fewer visas each, Hira told the New York Times.

The New York Times article cited BuildZoom, which Négri briefly worked for. The company could apply for only one visa, which is far fewer than the number of requests submitted by larger, more successful outsourcing firms. The company did not get the visa, so Négri was not hired.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is seeking to triple the number of H-1B visas in this country by removing the caps currently set by Congress.

In contrast, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has fought against the lifting of these caps, which he sees as displacing many qualified American STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates.

Federal law requires that global companies sign a declaration that they will not displace American workers. But the Times points to an important loophole that nixes that displacement curb if the companies pay H-1B workers at least $60,000 a year. That is not a big barrier, because the salary is far less than the amount of money an experienced American STEM or IT worker receives annually.

The entire New York Times article can be found here.

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz and on Facebook.

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