H-1B Visas: To What Degree Is Education an Issue?

Ann All

With all of the recent sky-is-falling coverage of the annual limit for H-1B visas being exceeded the first day applications were accepted, it's easy to overlook the fact that thousands of visas -- some 7,000 at last count -- are still available.


The H-1B visa program offers 20,000 additional slots for applicants with advanced degrees from U.S. universities. According to a notice on a site hosted by an immigration law firm, last week government officials said they had identified 12,989 H-1B applicants with those credentials -- leaving the additional slots open for those with master's degrees or higher from U.S. schools.


In theory, this should send U.S. tech companies -- which are lobbying hard for a more generous H-1B cap -- scrambling to find and sponsor those folks. Unless -- as critics contend -- companies don't really want to hire "the best and brightest," but rather the cheapest labor for certain tasks such as computer programming. They point to the fact that the majority of H-1B applicants have bachelor's degrees as evidence. (In reality, roughly half of applicants have advanced degrees.)


All of the furor over applicant qualifications has led some folks to propose that immigration officials should parcel out H-1Bs based on salary, with companies willing to pay the highest salaries given first priority. Other suggestions include making a distinction in applications based on the career field (Many, but not all, H-1B holders have jobs in IT) and eliminating caps for all of those with advanced degrees as well as those who obtain degrees in the U.S.


Others make the point that education shouldn't be the primary litmus test, noting that Bill Gates (an H-1B supporter who says there should be no limit to the number of visas allowed) lacks a college degree.


While the 65,000 cap number is featured prominently in media coverage -- including on this site -- the actual number of H-1Bs awarded is significantly higher. In addition to the additional 20,000 slots given to those with advanced degrees, certain other exceptions -- including those hired to work at universities, nonprofit research institutions or government laboratories -- are made.


According to recent news coverage, the U.S. awarded 103,584 H-1Bs in fiscal year 2002; 105,314 in 2003; 130,497 in 2004; and 116, 927 in 2005, the last year for which figures are available. Forty-five percent of the visas went to those with bachelor's degrees in fiscal 2005, down from 49 percent the year before.

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Apr 17, 2007 7:56 PM Bill Gates Bill Gates  says:
One issue here is of measurement. About half of H-1B workers have "graduate degrees". However, a graduate degree there is not necessarily the equivalent of a graduate degree there. The Indian press has documented the practice of getting a mail-order college degree followed by a "Masters of Computer Applications" (what we'd call a 'Chubb Certificat') in preparation for an H-1B visa. Reply
Apr 23, 2007 8:12 AM bob metcalf bob metcalf  says:
Follow the money...If the regs WERE changed to require H1Bhirers to meet a (living) salary requirementfor say, Systems Engineering ($100K/year)then they'd immediately turn to the next cheapestpool of labor available. Gates and others likehim are simply looking to enrich themselvesat our expense. Reply
Apr 23, 2007 8:25 AM Terrence Healy Terrence Healy  says:
Once again, contracting was the start of the downward spiral of job security. Why hire someone give them a chance at life when you can rent someone that you don't have to manage thier career and it will mean more money for senior executives. Then came the H1B visas, the same story. The companies did not want to pay for the people who went to school here in the US, and had the skills when they could hire people at a third of the price. My argument, after 911 happened. There were one or two Americans working in the IT department and the rest were from India. THOSE ARE AMERICAN COMPANIES depriving Americans a living. In a small sector there are more jobs then there are trained people, but that has to do with doctorate degree'd. We are not outsourcing Human Resources, Senior management are we and why not?????? I worked at Microsoft and my job was created because the people I worked for were spoiled prima donna's and could have as a team did the work I was doing but they were spoiled Prima donnas.My job was not allowed to work overtime, but it required it every weekend, the job was outsourced, Microsoft would not hire me, and neither cared about the fact I had to work overtime every weekend and never got paid. Needless to say, I will have my day in court. Companies need to know that if they don't stop abusing thier labor force they will fight back eventually with Unions. Imagine a Union in IT. Reply
Apr 23, 2007 8:37 AM N Spanos N Spanos  says:
If there is truly a shortage of skilled resources, what is the cause and how will it be resolved long-term? H1B's should be a short-term solution. The truth is there is no shortage... there is simply an abundant supply of cheap labor. The H1B process provides a means to exploit this cheap labor source. This situation does point out some serious problems in the U.S. It is obviously easier and more affordable for the foreign students to pursue edvanced degrees. College costs in the US have risen dramatically (more than the cost of inflation). With the decline in IT salaries, it is impractical to justify spending money on an advanced degree when the degree does not increase your earning potential. Once again, short-term thinking is creating serious long-term problems. This seems to be a growing pattern with US companies, politicians and government agencies. Reply
Apr 23, 2007 12:15 PM norman wheeler norman wheeler  says:
In all areas of employment in the U.S. , it 's about keeping overhead low and productivity high. You reallycan't fault the business leaders for applying those principles .Why should they have a responsibility to maintain an infrastructure of employment for the America citizens to rely on (prepare for,train,educate etc etc.) ???? After all, it's now a global economy....The above propaganda has been circulating for about 10?? to 15 years. And the Internet boom years of the 90's helped this revolting state of affairs gain a toe hold and further threaten the future quality of life in America.1. We were fed the line, that , when it came to immigrant workers, legal or not, at the lower end of the job spectrum, they would do the jobs that Americans wouldn't. Well, let me say that I for one, if it came downto having no money to support myself or family, or shoveling cow manure to make a buck, well, just give me 2 shovels2. And at the higher end of the job spectrum, Americans couldn't be found, that had the needed skills necessaryto fill technical, engineering, science, oriented jobs.I will say, to be fair, that foreign workers of all levels,from landscapers to programmers/professionals, work extremely hard for whatever money they're paid. And since the foreign workers are not citizens and somenot in the country legally, employers can take full advantage, underpay, no tax, social security , overtimeno work rules etc. Something they can't get away withif they employ Americans.And offshoring and outsourcing are a result of the opportunity that the world wide web has opened upfor corporate America. Simply stated, America, can be defined, as a country built on hundreds of years of capital investments made by people from all over the world. They came to America , to become Americans. And they built America, invested in America, paid their taxes and created the LAND of the etc etc etc. You still with me.Now as far as I'm concerned, both the business leadership and the political leadership, is giving the country away. They're transforming the country into the "have nots'" ( have debts) and the " have so much we really don't care" American Business, simply for the priviledge of it's American existence, has to be responsible to make continued capital investments in the American workforce . And if it doesn't happen , the political leadership has to make it happen.And if they don't,the ball is back in the peoples court. Reply
Apr 23, 2007 4:42 PM Sushant Chaudhary Sushant Chaudhary  says:
Looking at the scenario this year, it is bound that there will be increase in Qouta for Visas. Also while the B1/B2 are being more liberal and no cap on the same, companies are making sure that some applies to H1/L1. There has been continous pressure on govt. to incerease the limit. And i guess it will take some time but, they have to incerease the same. Reply
Apr 23, 2007 4:57 PM T V Krishnamurthy T V Krishnamurthy  says:
H1B is modern form of slavery.If the proponents are really serious they should allow anyone to apply for visa without restriction of company sponsorship and employment. Reply
Apr 23, 2007 5:38 PM Rich H. Rich H.  says:
I agree, Mr. Gate and this other IT/Technology companies; just want the cheap labor; and when a politician tell us that we need to educate andamericans need to go back to college; personaly;I did it and started my second college degree andfinish it; yet; it is difficult to get a job that can allow me to pay for home; transportation; insurance (home/health) and support a family; jobs that pay over $60,000 in the state of florida are difficult to fine andnot many are available; greed is driving the economy and the wealthiers are sinking the middle class; sooner or later this will bite us hard in the bottom. Our future looks very difficult with the amount of debt, and with noopportunity to save......it will be the chinese YEN calling the shots in the future.. and we will have to thanks....those..that....lead us today.... Reply
Apr 23, 2007 6:22 PM Sachin Tendulkar Sachin Tendulkar  says:
I think this H1B is over hyped. There are so many professionals within USA without jobs. H1B is not required. Reply
Apr 23, 2007 6:33 PM Karrie Pyle Karrie Pyle  says:
There is no question that the reason companies are whining about the H1-B problems is because they want to hire cheaper labor. I work for an offshore firm and they will sell a project using US employees and low pricing and bring the temporary workers in from offshore at half price, for developer, DBA, and team lead jobs. There are plenty of people here to do the work, but not for 15 dollars an hour. That is why companies want more visas. Reply
Apr 23, 2007 6:43 PM Carol Carol  says:
Where would Bill Gates be today, if IBM, has subcontracted the development of their new "DOS" back in the '80s?What about our young people here in America, those who are in debt up to their "eye balls" with college loans? Why are we bring people here to take their jobs and/or shipping their future overseas? Will these people wear an American military uniform, to and give their lives to defend this land of opportunities and freedom, "HELL NO"?Bill Gates has billion, how much more money does he need?Materialism will be the death of us all! Reply
Apr 23, 2007 6:46 PM Len Inkster Len Inkster  says:
Is this just an excuse to rationalise the dispensing of the services of many intelligent and highly useful older workers, just to boost the educational elite, and the coffers of those institues who charge to educate the individual.When education becomes the affordable right to everyone regardless of income, colour or creed, then I would support that those with a degree might be favoured, but not at the expense of people who have learned by hard work, and time honoured traditional methods.Whilst advanced degrees belong in the grasp of only those that can afford both the time and the money to get them we are going to end up with an elitest group of certificate holders whose only real qualification is to think alike, and learn history.Work experience, and the ability to show that constant learning of new skills and techniques on the job should also count, as unlike formal education, this indicates the ability to train on current technology, in a current business environment, with up to date information and standards, not from books and reference material that have been plagerised down the ages to hide the original concept date.There are many ways to be educated, and formal educational establishments anly one type. Whatever happened to the emphasis placed upon aprrenticeships, and time-served education?Some of us come from that era, and are as capable as any University graduate of starting, supporting and maintaining any business, yet we are constantly looked down upon by the establishment. Institutionalised educational-racism or blatant elitism is what I would dare to call it. Reply
Apr 23, 2007 7:13 PM Vinnie Vinnie  says:
Can those folks can provide evidence that MS graduate is better developer, DBA or team leader than BS graduate with 4 years of experience.Put them in practice and I bet a person with more than 2 years of experience can easily beat Masters graduate who does not have any field experience.People talk about cheap labour, but they forget about hardworking & skilled labour. Companies hire them not because they are cheap but because the get skilled labour at the same cost at which they get unskilled labour in the country.Today if H1B visa are stopped, it will have inverse effect on entire economy. Prices of all goods depending on services will rise sharply. And all companies will open their centres across developing countries. Will that be acceptable. Reply
Apr 23, 2007 7:26 PM Rajesh Kanna Rajesh Kanna  says:
H1b is just a label.What needs to proven is the skill-set an individual possess.Nowadays getting an H1B is easy as a plum cake,But survying the work pressure onsite and bring right technical skills to solve mission critical applications apparently very few. Reply
Apr 24, 2007 8:20 AM Zubair Abdullah Zubair Abdullah  says:
Well Well Well, I gone through the all comments, it's really like panic, ofcourse, it is panic........Actually the term "Slavery" (I don't want to go up who said it) it is SLAVERY from the point of employers and Darkness from the point of government, they are making US a place where nobody wouldn't like to live rather can't live.. got it? Reply
Apr 24, 2007 2:56 PM Seshan Pattamadai Seshan Pattamadai  says:
Strange to see so many complaints from "Americans." Historically, foreigners kicked out the native Americans and took the land by force, put the existing citizens in "reservations." Not sure how much those citizens have benefited by all the progress in these many decades.Business mentality is about profit and businesses will seek to lower cost and increase revenue at the same time. Run a business and you will see social objections suddenly overturned by commerical "justifications." America is a great country, but an extremely tough one. The pioneers survived and grew by being tough and taking action, not by complaining. They created jobs, they didn't go around demanding them. Be an example of the change you wish to see Good governance is about balancing the needs of different parts of society just as good management is about balancing the different aspects of a business. You need to walk a mile in a man's shoes to see his point of view. See all the points, take relevant action, and don't complain. Reply
Apr 24, 2007 3:28 PM VS VS  says:
Apparently there are at least two common misperceptions about H1B visas.Allow me to state two simple facts, and then add some other points:1) Employers are required to prove that the salary offered to an H1B candidate is equal to or higher than what they already pay other Americans for that same position.The reason for that is so that companies DON'T use H1B's as a way to get cheaper labor.If labor is cheaper now, it is because supply and demand has shifted to force that.2) Companies are in a global competition now.It's not just about America anymore.Their products and prices must compete with those of other companies from China, India, Malaysia, Poland, etc.And these places all have cheaper labor.Would you rather that the companies here simply outsource everything to factories and offices in those countries?No?Well, then the alternative is to have some of those people come here.If H1B people are HERE, then they spend their money HERE in THIS economy, not in India, or Poland, or wherever.Keeping the money circulating in this country stops the bleeding of wealth out of the country.3) I have been in a position to hire IT professionals for many years(I have 30 years experience in the IT field) and I must tell you that I have never given preference to anyone based upon their nationality, race, background, gender, age, etc.Nor have I descriminated.Also, as a manager of people hiring new employees, I have never said to my bosses - "hey I want to hire this one because he's cheaper.He is on H1B and so we can take advantage of that." The corporate system simply doesn't work like that.At least not for large companies.The salaries for the positions are already set in the payroll salary ranges.So we pay what we pay.And the negotiation over salary comes AFTER we have already chosen a person based on their fit to the job.If the job pays $60-65K, and the candidate wants, $70K, we tell them that the range is only up to $65K for that position, and they decide if it's worth it for them.Or, if it's a special situation and they cannot go cheaper and we REALLY need that position and it's a perfect fit, I might go back to my management and negotiate and build a case to try to get an extra 5K.It's all about fit to the job.It has nothing to do with H1B - EXCEPT - to be perfectly honest, there are two factors which make it UNdesirable for employers to hire an H1B.One is the paperwork.The legal paperwork for an H1B employee is extensive, and expensive.Legal fees are expensive.It is $4500 for a 3 yr H1B application.Plus some administrative hassle.The other factor is accent.Most people prefer to work with people they can understand, and if the person cannot communicate very well - that is a deal-killer.To be completely honest, I HAVE descriminated against some people because of that.But frankly, I think that is fair.It has nothing to do with race, color, gender, religion, age, hair color, body wieght, or anything else.It is their basic ability to communicate.I think that it is a job requirement to speak and write English clearly in order to communicate with other employees well.I think that is a fair requirement.So why not choose American workers?Of course I choose American workers, if they are qualified and available.Why wouldn't I?I have directly hired probably over 50 people in my career, and (I'm guessing here, but) I would say that about half were Americans.There were also a lot of Indians.Some Canadians, some Brits, some Chinese/Asians, etc.It is a simple fact that most of the candidates for IT jobs in the past 10 years have been Indians. Reply
Apr 24, 2007 3:29 PM VS VS  says:
Period.The reality of the situation is that if I advertise a job now for a Java programmer and it pays say, 65K per year, and I get 15 applicants for it, then 10 of them are probably Indian, 2 are Southeast Asian and 3 are American-born.Probably none are female.THAT is the reality.So, as I am evaluating their credentials, I don't much care about their education, really - I care about their experience - especially their RECENT experience.I look at projects they've worked on, and tools they've used.I look for inconsistencies in the facts of their resumes to see if they are lying.Then I intereview ALL the ones who are qualified.Statistically, since 2/3 of them are Indian, there is a 66% chance that the person selected will be Indian.However, if the accent is really thick and hard to understand, then I would probably prefer to look at another candidate.Then I select the first choice and second choice, find out their salary requirements, and if they are in line with our budget for that position, then schedule a few other interviews with technical peers, and other management, and maybe my boss.Then go to my management and try to get a signature on the offer to hire.It's that simple folks.There is no back-room sneaky stuff.There is no wink-and-nod, and secret handshake.There is no hidden old-boys club.This is EXACTLY how it really works.Those of you who hire staff know what I'm talking about.Frankly, if I am hiring a project manager, I get a different mix of candidates.More Americans, more Europeans, more females - it's a management type job.Less technical, so a different demographic shows up, and that determines who gets hired.You hire from the pool of available options.If it's mostly Inuit that show up for a particular skill set, then chances are, you're probably going to end up hiring an Inuit.Also, most people need to wake up and realize something else.Other than small companies - there are no more "American" companies anymore.That is a leftover concept from decades ago.Nowadays, they are multinational companies.They have offices, plants, factories, sales locations all over the world.The company I work for right now has IT staff in the US, UK, Poland, and India.My last big company was a large database and apps company which has offices in 109 countries.I was a regional director for them for many years, and that is where I did most of my hiring.GM is all over the world, as is Ford, and GE, and Coke and Pepsi, IBM, HP, and you name it.All the big companies operate in many countries.So they can shift their internal work from one country to another almost seamlessly.If the US government tries to stop offshore outsourcing, or globalsourcing by applying tax penalties on them, they can simply make one of their foreign offices their new headquarters and start paying taxes in THAT country.Suddenly GE is a Bangalore-based company with branch offices in the US.Do you see?Multi-national corporations are, by definition, beyond the scope of the legislation of a single country.Even if you threaten to cut them off from doing business entirely in the lucrative US market, the real fact is that only 4% of the world's people are here in the US.The other 96% are out there in other countries, and frankly, THAT is where the big growth markets and big opportunities are.The US is a saturated market for products, but India, China - these countries need lots of products and services and now they have the money to buy them.The Chinese government alone has over 1.2 trillion US dollars that they about to start spending. Reply
Apr 24, 2007 3:29 PM VS VS  says:
That is more than the entire US national debt was when Bush became president 6 years ago.They have LOTS of cash to spend.So that is where a significant market opportunity is.And places like Dubai, UAE is where the big oil companies are spending their money and focusing their attention and some are moving there.That is where the opportunities are now in that industry.It's not just about the US anymore.This is NOT the center of the universe anymore.One example:every year, India produces 1.5 million new engineers, and China produces over 3 million engineers.The US only produces 70,000, and half those are foreign students who will leave when finished.And the other 35,000 who are Americans will have trouble even finding jobs here.Because this is not where those kinds of jobs ARE anymore.Most of that kind of work is now over there.That's where the bulk of growth, innovation, and opportunity is now.This is reality, folks.This is globalization.It affects everybody.Learn to live in this this new world because we can't go back to the old one. Reply
Apr 26, 2007 4:57 PM Eric Lilleness Eric Lilleness  says:
I have been working in the IT field since 1979. If you are a techie-type, you will get branded as only being able to work on Technology that you have been working with in recent years. If you are ever forced out of work, god luck finding a new job unless your skills are a perfect match. It didn't used to be this way.My point; there is not a shortage of great IT folks in the US, but there is a shortage of companies that don't view their technical staff as throw-away when they are done with them. Reply
May 4, 2007 3:52 PM Basketztalks Basketztalks  says:
How i wish this is true so as one will be able to associate with one or reasonable work to reduce unemployment all over the underdelevoped nations both within and abroad. thank u. Reply
Jun 15, 2007 8:23 AM vinayz vinayz  says:
Hai everyone This is Vinay Krishna, i have done my mca last year and right now i have applied for H1b.Earlier i got dependent visa for 3 years but i didnt go because of my education, Now that is expired, Recently I have applied for H1b, How many years of exprience is required to get H1b visa Reply
Mar 18, 2009 8:05 AM Charlene Johnson Charlene Johnson  says:

I have never given H1b much thought but now that i have been offered a position by an American company I am seeking to get one. I worked for this company on a previous visa, a J1 and I was very successful with that company so much so that they wnat me back on  a longer term.

I am seeing a lot of panic from Americans here on this blog and to be honest I do not understand what the hype is all about. you are a huge country who have taken from others over the years and so what if you gave back? i do not have a degree and right now I am scrambling to get evaluated and get accepted for my visa. In my estimation, if the organisation with which i worked for before could find Americans who wished to be in a job fulltime, there would be no need for my services.

This is not an IT job but it has its demands just the same.

This reminds me of Brittain back in the day when the people there did not want to do certain jobs and they sent for the Blacks, Indians and others and gave them an opportunity to do the 'dirty' jobs, and now in this day they are now trying to get rid of the same people who made those jobs decent, they aren't dirty anymore.

Tell me, why then are so many people having a hissy fit over who gets an H1b? there are more than enough jobs out there for America to share, dont be greedy people. Even with this recession, there is still a need for people like me to help out.

And the salary is not any different either, it's no cheap labour, people with visas are paid the same salary.

Jun 22, 2009 7:11 PM Len Inkster Len Inkster  says: in response to VS

Spoken like a true, politically correct patriot, and honestly, I applaud you for your sentiments.  All you need to do now is convince the U.S. Customs and Border control people that people without Degrees are just as capabile of filling the skills void as those who can afford the time/money to go to University and get a degree in history, and I'll be right there with you.

As for the person that says there is not skills gap...Wake up.  The Baby boomers are taking their profitsd and retiring, their skills are being lost to the industry.  These skills are not all Web-Services, C# and Java.  There are a lot of Legacy systems out there and there always will be.  That's where the skills gap is!

Mar 4, 2010 2:40 PM Best acne treatment Best acne treatment  says:

I think technical education solves the problem of unemployment. Technically educated people will at last earn even their bread in honest and honourable way. Many people think that this education lowers their dignity. They prefer to be hungry lawyers than well fed mechanics.

Jul 22, 2010 6:33 PM beach_bum beach_bum  says:

Personally, in the midst of a recession I think issuing of ALL of these visas - J1, H-1B, etc. - needs to be halted. It is extremely frustrating to me when my son can't get a summer job because some business has shipped in a bunch of foreign "students" to employ for the summer just so they don't have to pay all of the payroll taxes.

Wake up people! Our federal government is increasing our national deficit to extend unemployment benefits! Put an end to these visas and give these jobs to US citizens.


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