To say that the H-1B program is controversial within the tech industry is something of an understatement. Many companies insist that H-1B visas allow them to import talent from overseas that they could never find domestically. Meanwhile, domestic workers complain that those companies cynically use H-1B to undercut salaries.
During his campaign for the Presidency, Donald Trump publicly disparaged the H-1B program’s effect on workers, and his administration has taken some steps to restrict aspects of it (although he hasn’t gone far enough, if you listen to the critics). For example, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has extended a suspension of premium processing for H-1B petitions, which in theory has made life difficult for companies that rely on the visa.
But is the suspension actually having an impact on the tech community? Blind, which regularly surveys tech pros about issues affecting the industry, recently asked: “Have you been negatively affected by the suspension of H-1B premium processing?” Some 38.19 percent of the (anonymous) respondents answered “Yes,” while 17.68 percent said “No,” and 44.13 percent said: “Does not apply.” (Some 10,554 users of the Blind app responded to the survey, and could only answer once.)
Breaking things down by company, eBay had the most employees answering “Yes” (55.4 percent), followed by PayPal (51.49 percent) and Amazon (44.94 percent). Facebook and Google had the lowest number of employees responding in the affirmative, with 35.28 percent and 28.84 percent (respectively). Here’s a chart for your viewing pleasure:
Because Blind’s survey is anonymous, it’s hard to tell whether a higher percentage of employees reporting “Yes” correlates with their firm’s usage of H-1B visas; for example, one company’s respondents could include proportionally more managers and HR employees than others. But taken as a whole, it’s clear that the H-1B suspension is impacting a healthy number of tech employees (although not the majority).
In Silicon Valley, where many of these companies are based, there’s quite a bit of support for H-1B visas, at least according to a survey conducted in mid-2018 by The Mercury News. Some 71 percent of respondents told the newspaper that they thought the number of H-1B visas doled out annually should be kept the same or increased, while 22 percent thought the quantity should be decreased.
In addition, some 38 percent thought that H-1B workers provided “critical skills” that companies couldn’t find in domestic employees, in contrast to the 23 percent who thought that H-1B recipients took jobs “that would otherwise be filled by qualified American workers.”
Whatever your opinion on H-1Bs, the fact remains that all the little changes instituted over the past two years by the Trump administration could end up having a larger cumulative effect in 2019. The structure of the visa lottery system itself may undergo significant changes, with those applicants with advanced degrees getting a better shot at seeing their H-1B petitions approved.