User List Renews Calls for H-1B Reform

The companies that requested the most H-1B visas in 2007 were again overwhelmingly Indian, leading one senator to criticize reform progress.   

The annual list of H-1B visas continues to be dominated not by large U.S. tech companies, but by Indian outsourcing firms and U.S.-headquartered service providers that do the majority of their work in India.

These are the findings of new data released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on March 10. Six of the top 10 users of temporary work visas in 2007 were Indian firms, with Bangalore-headquartered Infosys Technologies and Wipro topping the list with 4,559 and 2,567 approved visa petitions, respectively. It's those companies' third year in a row in the two top spots.

Two companies with U.S. headquarters but that mostly operate in India-Cognizant Technology Systems and UST Global-were also in the top 10.

Microsoft, with 959 H-1B visa approvals, and Intel, with 369, were the only two widely known U.S. tech companies in the top 10. Though neither company made an appearance on the 2006 top 10 H-1B visa roster-when seven of the top 10 H-1B visa users were Indian service providers-Microsoft has a long history of high use of temporary worker visas. In 2000, Microsoft was the sixth highest user of H-1B visas.

As he has done in previous years, Bill Gates is scheduled to testify to Congress on March 12 about keeping the U.S. competitive by increasing the availability of H-1B visas and green cards.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who has long been a critic of the temporary worker visa program, asked Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on March 9 what progress had been made in the reform of the H-1B program, pointing to the heavy use of H-1B visas by non-U.S. companies.

"Despite continued fraud and abuse in the H-1B program, I have yet to see one thing from the administration to address the problem," said Grassley in a statement.

"Everyday we're learning more and more, but it appears that most H-1B visas are going to foreign-based companies. U.S. businesses that need highly skilled workers are getting the short end of the stick."

Grassley, along with Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., has long been a critic of the H-1B visa program, demanding that federal agencies defend their high H-1B use and proposing a bill that would give U.S. workers first dibs on jobs slated for H-1B visa holders.

H-1B proponents, who have argued that an increased availability of visas will improve U.S. competitiveness, are not sitting silent in this debate. One such nonprofit, the National Foundation for American Policy, released a report March 9 that argued that H-1B visas are good for the U.S. work force, correlating H-1B visa requests with increases in employment in U.S. tech companies. The report concluded that these foreign workers are helpful, not harmful, to U.S. workers.

The already fiery H-1B debate is expected to reach a fever pitch in the coming weeks, as April 1 is the first day that the 65,000-count H-1B visa supply will be available for the 2009 fiscal year. The 2008 supply was tapped out the first day the visas were available.