The Search for Skills: Demand for H-1B Immigrant Workers in U.S. Metropolitan Areas

 

U.S. employers use H-1B visas to hire high-skilled foreign workers

The H-1B visa program allows employers to hire foreigners to work in specialty occupations on a temporary basis. Visas are granted in three-year increments with the option to extend up to six years. With sponsorship from their employers, H-1B visa holders may apply for permanent residence, and their H-1B visas can be renewed for one year extensions until their green card is issued. There is a cap on the number of H-1B visas that can be issued each fiscal year. Academic and research institutions are not subject to this cap. Steps in the H-1B application process are outlined below.

Demand for H-1B workers consistently outpaces supply of visas

Over the last 10 years the demand for H-1B visas has fluctuated in response to both economic and political conditions. The trend at the national level has been one of growth, with the exception of significant declines after the collapse of the dot-com bubble in 2001, September 11, 2001, and the Great Recession starting in 2007. Over this period, there has been an average of 311,889 requests for H-1B visas, fluctuating from a 2003 low of 220,731 to a 2008 high of 404,907.

H-1B workers are requested for a variety of occupations and industries

Employers requesting the most H-1B visas are large companies specializing in information technology, consulting, and electronics manufacturing. Yet three-quarters of requests come from employers requesting fewer than 150 workers, and ten percent originate from universities and research institutions that are not subject to the annual visa cap. Of the highest requesting employers in 2010-2011, 80 percent are headquartered in the United States. STEM occupations account for almost two-thirds of all requests for H-1B workers.

H-1B demand comes from both large and small metropolitan areas

One hundred and six metropolitan areas exhibited a high demand for H-1B workers in the 2010-2011 period, accounting for 91 percent of all H-1B requests. In these and other metropolitan areas, the H-1B intensity, calculated as the ratio of H-1Bs requested to the total number of jobs in the metro area, is high. Demand for H-1B workers, however, is not limited to large metropolitan areas Columbus, Indiana boasts the second-highest demand intensity at 14.6 requests per 1,000 workers.

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TOTAL NUMBER OF H-1B VISA REQUESTS

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NUMBER OF H-1B VISA REQUESTS PER 1,000 WORKERS

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TOTAL DOLLARS RECEIVED FROM H-1B SKILLS GRANTS*

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PER-CAPITA DOLLARS RECEIVED FROM H-1B SKILLS GRANTS*

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TOP OCCUPATIONS BY NUMBER OF VISA REQUESTS

% OF VISA REQUESTS FROM UNCAPPED ORGANIZATIONS

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% OF VISA REQUESTS
IN STEM OCCUPATIONS

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NON-STEM   STEM

CAPPED   UNCAPPED

SELECTED TOP EMPLOYERS

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All data averaged for 2010–2011 unless otherwise noted.

*Of the 106 metro areas in this study, 36 received no grant dollars.

An analysis of the geography of H-1B visa requests — particularly in the metropolitan areas with the highest demand between 2001 and 2011 — reveals that:

Demand for H-1B workers has fluctuated with economic and political cycles over the last decade and reflects a wide range of employers’ needs for high-skilled temporary workers. Employer requests have exceeded the number of visas issued every year except from 2001 to 2003 when the annual cap was temporarily raised from 65,000 to 195,000. Employers requesting the most H-1B visas are large companies subject to the cap specializing in information technology, consulting, and electronics manufacturing. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations account for almost two-thirds of requests for H-1B workers; healthcare, finance, business, and life sciences occupations are also in high demand. Over the last decade the federal government has distributed about $1 billion from H-1B visa fees to fund programs to address skills shortages in the U.S. workforce.

One hundred and six metropolitan areas had at least 250 requests for H-1B workers in the 2010–2011 period, accounting for 91 percent of all requests but only 67 percent of the national workforce. Considerable variation exists among these metro areas in the number of workers requested and the ratio of requests to the size of the total metro workforce. On average, there were 3.3 requests for H-1Bs per 1,000 workers in these 106 metro areas, compared to 2.4 for the nation as a whole.

Metropolitan areas vary by the number of employers using the H-1B program and the cap status of the employers. Demand in corporate metro areas (such as Columbus, IN and Seattle, WA) comes predominantly from private employers subject to the annual visa cap, while in research metro areas (such as Durham, NC and Ann Arbor, MI), the demand is driven by universities and other research institutions exempted from the cap. In mixed metro areas (such as Atlanta, GA and Trenton, NJ), a variety of employers are demanding temporary highskilled foreign workers.

In 92 of the 106 high demand metropolitan areas, STEM occupations accounted for more than half of all requests. Computer occupations were the most highly requested occupation group in all but 11 metros of the 106 high-demand metros, where engineering, healthcare practitioners, and postsecondary teachers were more requested. Metropolitan areas also vary on occupational concentration, ranging from 74 occupation groups requested in the New York metro area, to 15 groups requested in Bloomington, IL.

H-1B visa fees designated for skills training and STEM education have not been proportionately distributed to metro areas requesting the highest number of H-1B workers. Metropolitan areas with a high demand for H-1B workers are only receiving $3.09 on average per working age person 16 years or older of the technical skills training grants compared to $15.26 for metros that have a lower demand for H-1Bs from 2001-2011. STEM education funds are similarly distributed with the high H-1B metros receiving only $1.00 per working age person 16 years or older compared to $14.10 in the low H-1B metros.

The U.S. government should develop an independent standing commission on labor and immigration removed from politics that can adjust the cap for H-1B visa applicants based on local employer skills needs and regional economic indicators. The federal government should also channel H-1B visa fees to skills training in areas that are currently being filled by H-1B workers at the metropolitan level.

Additional Resources