Despite claims to the contrary, many tech firms are using H-1B visas to fill temporary positions and not as a pathway to permanent citizenship, according to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute.
"Some H-1Bs and L-1s visa holders do make it to permanent residence, but many employers never plan to sponsor employees for permanent residence," report author Ron Hiras writes. "These employers are using the H-1B and L-1 visa programs for purely temporary purposes, and their share of the H-1B and L-1 visa numbers is large and increasing."
Tech leaders have long championed the idea of using H-1B visas as way to bring the best and brightest to work permanently in the United States. Former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has repeatedly told Congress, "It's doesn't make sense to keep the smart people out."
Carly Fiorina, an adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008, current Republican candate for the U.S. Senate and former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, recently said, "It is in our economic interest to have really smart people wanting to come here. And so what's wrong with the H-1B visa system today, among other things, is that we curtail that program so tightly that the limits that Congress allows for H-1B visa entrance are usually filled within one week. So we have to find a more practical system for allowing smart, hardworking people to come into this country, and it should be our goal to get them to stay here forever."
Hira, though, comes to a different conclusion after his study of H-1B and L-1 visa holders. "[Some companies are] using the H-1B and L-1 visa programs for purely temporary purposes, and their share of the H-1B and L-1 visa numbers is large and increasing" Hira writes in his analysis. "This paper [shows] that growing shares of employers never plan to sponsor H-1B and L-1 visas for permanent residence."
He adds, "In fact, as this paper [shows], most of the top users of both the H-1B and L-1 visa programs sponsor very few, if any, of their workers for permanent residence."
According to Hira, the guest worker program has become bifurcated, with some employers using the H-1B and L-1 visa programs as a bridge to permanent immigration while other employers use it simply for temporary labor mobility.