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H-1B Visa Program: Stealer Of American Jobs Or Tech Shortage Solution?

Posted on by Ovrille Gonsalves

VisaCongress has recently introduced legislation in hopes of overhauling the H-1B Visa process, shining a light on the long-standing program and creating a major disconnect between U.S. employers and U.S. employees. Tech companies are on one side of the H-1B discussion, insisting there's a real and significant shortage of technical talent. However, on the flip side, many American programmers and developers maintain that H-1B visa workers are stealing their jobs. Naturally, one might wonder, can both arguments be true at the same time? 

Cost To Consider When Hiring H-1B Candidates
The answer is not a simple one. While many assume that foreign workers offer a financially cheaper staffing solution, it's not always the case. In fact, many tech companies won't hire an H-1B candidate because they know firsthand that hiring an overseas worker instead of an American can prove a costly proposition.

Beyond an H-1 worker's compensation, hiring companies must absorb several other costs, such as:

  • Legal counsel fees
  • H-1 processing and/or transfer fees
  • Premium processing fees

In some cases, employers must even pay the Green Card application fees for visa workers who eventually seek to become U.S. permanent residents. These periphery expenses add up quickly, often making it a better financial decision to hire an American candidate…as long as qualified American applicants are available. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Many companies are forced to look at overseas options due to the scarcity of technical talent within domestic workers. In fact, several tech companies would like to see Congress approve an expansion of the number of visas so that they can fulfill their staffing requirements and remain competitive.

Lack Of STEM Talent Causing A Drought In Tech Industry
As with any process, there will always be some companies that find a way to abuse the H-1B system, making it critical to have a plan in place to scrutinize and penalize any "rotten apples" spoiling the employment cart. Still, there’s a far bigger problem for the tech industry, as well as the nation as a whole: the dearth of STEM talent.

The mere existence of the H-1B Visa Program suggests a lack of “STEM" (Science, Technology, Engineering, and/or Mathematics) talent within the U.S. Each year, U.S. universities simply aren’t churning out as many domestic students that have a genuine interest in obtaining STEM-based employment prospects.

The question remains: how do we fill this void? Currently, many tech companies, especially in Silicon Valley, have filled up to half of their employment needs with H-1B Visa employees. If the program changes, how would these companies continue to excel and be competitive? In the absence of qualified domestic workers, companies will be compelled to outsource projects overseas, allowing U.S. industry (and dollars) to flow outside of the U.S. to countries such as India and China.

Also, in the midst of a perceived "hostile job market," international students may reconsider enrolling in U.S. universities. The impact of such an event on the U.S. economy is two-fold. First, it could spark a "brain drain," and, secondly, it could cause a negative effect on the "dollar contributions" by international students for higher education. Additionally, the U.S. economy could lose out on high tax dollars contributed by highly compensated H-1B Visa workers.

Rather than being perceived as a "job stealer," the H-1B Visa Program should be viewed as a temporary solution to the very real shortage of tech talent. However, real change will come when we consider our role in the process. To truly resolve the threat of American jobs going to overseas employees, the U.S. must find new ways to encourage and promote more “STEM” based education to its younger generation in the hope that someday the “supply” meets the “demand” of the tech industry.

About the Contributor
Ovrille Gonsalves is a Senior Recruiter with the JVT Contract Recruiting team. With many years of IT/technical professional experience, he is responsible for full lifecycle recruiting for JVT’s clients across several industry verticals. 

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