It seems as if everyone in the tech industry has an opinion on H-1B visas. But not many of them are informed -- if by "informed," we use the American Heritage Dictionary definition: Possessing, displaying, or based on reliable information.
Now, we aren't calling anyone stupid. We are merely noting that most of the arguments we've heard -- both for and against -- the controversial visas are based on anecdotal experience rather than hard evidence. This isn't so much a case of rhetoric winning out over rationale as it is a lack of solid data.
A recent MercuryNews.com story refers to the dearth of publicly available data as "startling" and shows that H-1B numbers look quite different, depending upon who provides them.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's estimate of Oracle's H-1B headcount, for example, varies widely from the estimate of the U.S. Department of Labor -- and neither matches Oracle's own data. Indeed, two different lists the Mercury News obtained from Homeland Security did not match up.
Companies themselves seem to exhibit a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude when asked about H-1B employment. After telling a Mercury News reporter that HP does not track its annual application numbers for H-1Bs, an HP spokeswoman does say: "... the employees that have H-1B visas are less than 2 percent of HP's total U.S. employee population."
Cisco simply tells the reporter: "There is currently a shortage of technically skilled workers in the U.S., and as Cisco hiring overall has increased in recent years, so has our use of H-1Bs to fill certain highly specialized positions."
The data issue heated up earlier this year when government numbers seemed to indicate that Indian outsourcing companies such as Infosys and Wipro were among the biggest recipients of H-1B visas.
An AFL-CIO representative says the lack of data indicates lax oversight by the federal government, a key point made by H-1B critics who say there is no way to know how many H-1B visas are actually needed until loopholes and abuses in the program are addressed.
"There's no good data," the executive director of the American Council on International Personnel tells the Mercury News, and that meshes with what outsourcing expert and H-1B critic Ron Hira told IT Business Edge in May:
This is the first time that much of this data has come to light. Why has it taken so long? How can you have a rational policy-making process without the critical information? The reason we don't have it is, of course, companies have been unwilling to reveal it.