Registration for US 2019 is now open          
Career Scope, Eligibility and Job Prospects
View all

H-1B Under Scrutiny


The H-1B guest worker visa program has been coming under scrutiny lately.

The program is important to colleges both in terms of their ability to hire postdocs and other researchers from abroad and, more indirectly, in providing a pathway for the international students they recruit to work in the U.S. after graduation. Many in higher education see the existence of such pathways as important in making the U.S. an attractive destination for international students, especially since some countries that compete with the U.S. for top graduate student talent offer easier and more straightforward routes from student to permanent residency status.

But several national news articles have raised concerns about the use of the H-1B visa program to displace American workers in the corporate sector. And Wright State University, in Ohio, reported in August that federal authorities are investigating possible violations in its use of the H-1B program. The president and board chair for Wright State University wrote in a statement that they had been “presented with credible evidence that somewhere between two and five years ago not every H-1B employee sponsored by the university was actually working at the university. That would violate federal law, and it concerns us greatly.”

University employers like Wright State are exempt from statutory caps limiting the number of H-1B visas, currently set at 65,000 per year. An additional 20,000 H-1Bs are reserved for holders of advanced degrees from U.S. universities.

The H-1B is an employer-sponsored visa for workers in “specialty occupations,” typically those requiring at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Although it is a temporary visa, it can be a stepping-stone on the way to permanent residency.

The program has often been described as a way for Silicon Valley companies to attract “the best and brightest” engineers and scientists from abroad, and is seen as a key tool in helping companies fill high-demand jobs for which there are insufficient numbers of qualified candidates who are U.S. citizens. However, the top recipients of the visas are outsourcing or consulting companies, many based in India, which, as The New York Times reported in June, “import workers for large contracts to take over entire in-house technology units — and to cut costs.” The Times was reporting on the use of the H-1B program to displace American technology workers at the Walt Disney Company. In some cases the laid-off American workers had to train their replacements.

A bill introduced earlier this year that was endorsed by major higher education associations would nearly double the total number of H-1Bs available, from 65,000 to 115,000, and lift the cap altogether on the number of H-1Bs granted to holders of advanced degrees from U.S. universities. The Immigration Innovation, or “I-Squared,” bill would also exempt holders of advanced STEM degrees from U.S. universities from the cap on employment-based green cards.