Among the top IT vendors, Hira's study found that Microsoft was granted 1,037 H-1B visas in 2008 and had sought permanent residency for 703 H-1B holders that year, a ratio or yield of 68 percent. Intel received 351 H-1B visas that year, but applied for permanent residency for only two visa holders that year. A year earlier, though, Intel's permanent residence yield was 42 percent of the 369 H-1B visas it received.
And Google Inc. received approval for 207 H-1B visas in 2008, and sought permanent residency for 108 visa holders.
Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs & Co., was granted 211 H-1B visas in 2008 and sought permanent residency for 13.
Researchers can only estimate the numbers of H-1B and L-1 workers in the U.S. at any one time because of a lack of pertinent government data on visa usage. Thus it is difficult to determine the overall percentage of H-1B workers that actually receive permanent residency.
In the Economic Policy Institute study, H-1Bs accounted for 63 percent of the permanent residence applications in 2008, or 30,951 of 49,205, in 2008. However, Hira noted that those in the latest permanent residency database have gained H-1B employment any time between 2002 and 2008, making pool of H-1Bs eligible for the permanent residency approval process much higher than the number of H-1B visas approved in 2008.
Various estimates put the overall total of visa holders in the range of 600,000 H-1B workers, and 350,000 L-1 workers, according to Hira's new study.
An decade-old study compiled by Georgetown University estimated that about 50 percent of H-1B visa holders become permanent residents of the U.S. Hira believes the percentage has fallen, based on the numbers in his analysis.
Hira argues that visa rules put most of the power to control H1-B workers in the hands of employers. Visa workers can "switch jobs in very limited circumstances, and their employer can revoke the visa at any time by terminating their employment, forcing the worker out of status with immigration authorities. If employment is terminated, the worker must leave the country immediately," the study said.
Eleanor Pelta, first vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, was critical of Hira's assessment on the role H-1B workers play in the workforce, and added that visa proponents are hoping that Congress reforms the current rules. Such reforms, expected in a comprehensive immigration bill, could make it easier for high skilled workers to get permanent residency.
Citing the multi-year backlog in Green Card applications, Pelta doesn't believe visa holders should come to the US. "and then wait 10 to 15 years for a Green Card, I think that is really bad for the economy."
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld . Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov , send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed? .
Read more about careers in Computerworld's Careers Knowledge Center.