YASAMAN MOAZAMI – H-1B visas allow companies to hire high-skilled tech workers from abroad. The tech companies are not the only ones looking elsewhere for talent. A variety of companies, from healthcare to media, use H-1B visas to help fill their workforce. There were more than a quarter of a million applicants last year alone. The tech community has been lobbying Congress for many years now to increase the number of annual visas, which are capped at 85,000 to resolve the struggle to find talent in the local communities.
Trump has been criticizing the H-1B program for taking jobs away from qualified Americans. However, tech companies insist there is a shortage of tech talent here in America. Hiring an H-1B worker over an American can be a pricey process. Companies do not want to pay more for a qualified employee, but the scarcity in America has forced the companies to look elsewhere.
One major criticism of the H-1B visa is that they are not only given to the most highly trained workers. In reality, of the 85,000 visas handed out annually, only 20,0000 are reserved for people with advanced degrees. That being said, a bachelor’s degree in computer science (not an advanced degree) are in high demand and exactly what the tech companies are seeking.
On the heels of Trump’s attempt to temporarily ban travel from seven countries for 90 days, a group of 97 predominantly tech companies filed an amicus brief condemning his polices. The companies claimed that the move was “inflicting substantial harm on U.S. companies.” Some of the top companies signing the brief include Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Expedia and Uber.
Some may say, Silicon Valley is standing up to protect immigrants, but it is not all in the name of altruism here. H-1B visas allow companies to employ foreign professionals in “specialty” occupations that earn a lower wage than their American peers. The foreign workers lack the ability to negotiate, which at times makes them entirely subject to their employers if they want to stay in the U.S. This could have an unintended consequence – for instance, reduced willingness to report workplace rights violations.
Since the election in the U.S., interest in the Canadian alternative has been growing. Canada has a “Start-up Visa Program” which is hoping to attract those with temporary visas in Silicon Valley and Seattle. Vancouver is already housing Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Twitter satellite offices. Per the Vancouver Economic Commission, the tech companies generate $23 billion in revenue and 30% of venture capital funds are going to Canada.
While the future of the H-1B program is unknown, it is undeniable that the H-1B program can use some improvements.
 Asma Khalid, H-1B Visas: Stealing American Jobs Or A solution to A Tech Shortage?, WBUR, Feb. 23, 2017, http://www.wbur.org/bostonomix/2017/02/23/h1b-visas-debate.
 Sarah Ashley O’Brien, Tech’s beloved H-1B visa is flawed. Here’s why., CNNTech, Feb. 21, 2017, http://money.cnn.com/2017/02/21/technology/h1b-visa-program-flawed/.
 Khalid, Supra.
 O’Brien, Supra.
 Carolyn Mathas, Silicon Valley vs. Trump – H1B Visa Elephant in the Room, Electronics 360, Feb. 23, 2017, http://electronics360.globalspec.com/article/8163/silicon-valley-vs-trump-the-h1b-visa-elephant-in-the-room.