How tech giants beat H-1B visa cap: They call 'em students

A program to bring science and tech grads to the U.S. for training has been abused by companies seeking low-cost labor

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OPT was introduced by the George W. Bush administration and expanded by the Barack Obama administration in 2012. The Obama administration maintained the 29-month limit on a student's stay, but expanded the number of eligible fields of study by about 90, bringing the total to 400.

Daniel Costa, an immigration policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, says he is concerned about "the fact that none of [the eligible fields] were determined based on demonstrated labor market shortages, and that there are no wage protections for OPT workers, which allows employers to undercut wages paid to U.S. workers. ... In a few of these fields, there may be shortages. But in many others, it's unlikely that we're anywhere near full employment," said Costa. "But the government hasn't taken the time to check."

More H-1B visas may be coming
Meanwhile, the demand for H-1B visas is very strong, and there are predictions that the quota will be filled in just a week after the filing period that opens on April 1.

Last year, the DHS's Citizenship and Immigration Services agency received 124,000 H-1B petitions in the first week. The agency used a lottery to determine who would get the visas. It was the first time the CIS had used such a lottery since 2008, which is why the tech industry is pushing hard to double the cap. It argues that there is a severe labor shortage, not to mention a shortage of qualified STEM graduates, and they need more foreign labor to fill the gap. (Despite what the tech industry claims, there is no shortage of STEM grads.)

Even worse is H-1B's dirty secret: The largest single users of H-1B visas are offshore outsourcers, many of which are based in India or, if U.S.-based, have most of their employees located overseas. According to a Computerworld analysis of U.S. CIS data, the top seven H-1B users are Cognizant, Tata, Infosys, Wipro, Accenture, HCL America, and Mahindra Group. Of these, Accenture is an Irish company and Cognizant is an American company; the rest are Indian companies.

These outsourcers' H-1B use is not benefiting American companies the program is supposed to be for. If the U.S. tech industry really has a labor shortage, as opposed to a cheap-labor shortage, it should be lobbying to get existing H-1B visas assigned to American companies before asking for more.

"This is just affirmation that H-1B has become the outsourcing visa," says Ron Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and researcher of tech immigration issues.

It's not clear if Congress will raise the cap on H-1Bs -- the visa issue has become entangled with overall immigration reform, which remains stalled. But whether or not the cap is raised, you can bet that the OPT will remain a sleazy end run around the law.

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This article, "How tech giants beat H-1B visa cap: They call 'em students," was originally published by Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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