Whoever President-elect Joe Biden selects to head up Homeland Security and other agencies, it’s clear that H-1B (and tech immigration as a whole) could soon end up looking very different than it did under President Trump. Given how radical changes could soon be underway, it’s well worth looking at what some of the nation’s largest and most prominent tech companies pay their H-1B workers—after all, these compensation numbers could change radically in a year or two.
Some interesting things to note: Some of the largest tech companies (Microsoft, Apple, Google) pay their H-1B workers a relatively low average wage compared to smaller ones (such as Twitter, Waymo, and Airbnb). Why is that? A high degree of specialization might have something to do with it; whereas a company like Microsoft might pull in 32,000 H-1B workers for a variety of tasks, a firm like Waymo (which specializes in autonomous-driving technology) or Bloomberg (finance IT) is likely on the hunt for highly specialized workers.
That Netflix tops this list should come as no surprise to anyone who watches tech-industry compensation. The company is famous for paying huge salaries to technologists who deliver outsized results. In a posting on CNBC, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said he believes that “the best programmer doesn’t add 10 times the value” but “more like a 100 times.” Given that, perhaps it’s no surprise that Netflix’s H-1B workers make quite a bit more than their equivalents at other tech firms.
The big question now is whether tech companies will continue to hire thousands of H-1B workers, or whether the recent changes by the outgoing Trump administration will stick. Back in October, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued an Interim Final Rule that changed how much companies can pay H-1B workers.
That rule argued that current wage levels “provide an opportunity for employers to hire and retain foreign workers at wages well below what their U.S. counterparts,” leading to “downward pressure on the wages of the domestic workforce.” Because of that wage floor, it added, some companies could “use H-1B workers as a low-cost alternative to U.S. workers.”
The rule’s language echoes longtime criticisms of the H-1B visa program, namely that it allows consulting and outsourcing firms to contract cheaper workers to tech companies. Indeed, many of the Trump administration’s tweaks to H-1B policy over the past several years have targeted these firms, resulting in a rising rate of H-1B application denials (as well as renewal denials).
By raising the required wages of H-1B workers, the DOL’s rule could force these outsourcing and consulting firms to readjust their entire business model. It may also force big tech companies to pay in-house H-1B workers a higher salary, which could radically change their hiring decisions.
But all that hinges on the Biden administration continuing the Trump administration’s processes. And at this juncture, that seems unlikely; Biden’s campaign, for example, suggested that it would increase the number of visas in coming years, based on certain conditions.