The nation’s largest tech hubs are also the hungriest for H-1B workers, according to an analysis of recent visa filings. Although the Trump and Biden administrations have proposed radical overhauls to the H-1B, substantially changing such a deeply entrenched system could prove a difficult task given the sheer number of visa workers involved.
For H-1B data, we’re relying on the H-1B Salary Database, which indexes the Labor Condition Application (LCA) disclosure data from the United States Department of Labor (DOL). Using it, we can break down not only the cities with the most H-1B filings, but also their average H-1B salaries:
New York City tops this list by a substantial margin, and with good reason: In addition to local tech companies, the metropolis hosts other industries that heavily leverage the H-1B, including medicine and finance. San Francisco and the cities of Silicon Valley take up multiple slots on this list, thanks in large part to the local tech giants that apply for many thousands of H-1B visas per year. Seattle also has a prominent ranking due to H-1B usage at companies such as Microsoft and Amazon.
Up-and-coming tech hubs such as Houston, Atlanta, and Austin also utilize a large number of H-1B visas, although not all of these are necessarily tech-focused. The average H-1B salaries in these cities is also significantly lower than in the well-established tech hubs.
The Trump administration spent four years attempting to overhaul the H-1B system. Back in 2018, for example, Trump’s DHS proposed a new H-1B lottery system that would favor those with advanced degrees. And in 2020, Trump also pushed for an outright ban on the visa, stating that all available jobs should go to Americans left unemployed by the pandemic-related downturn.
As a result of the Trump administration’s efforts, the denial rate for H-1B petitions for initial employment rose from 6 percent during fiscal year 2015 to 29 percent through the second quarter of fiscal year 2020. Critics of the H-1B system cheered the shift; the visa was originally intended to help companies bring in highly specialized talent unavailable in the U.S., they argued, not give those companies the ability to import lots of cheaper labor.
Consulting and business-services firms, which are routinely accused of abusing the system to import non-specialized workers from overseas, were hard-hit by the Trump administration’s moves. Perhaps some of those firms took hope in the incoming Biden administration; however, Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 features language that would prioritize visas based on wages, an echo of Trump’s policy.
No matter how the system is reformed (or left relatively untouched) in coming years, though, it’s clear from the data that the H-1B is well-entrenched within the nation’s largest tech hubs, and that policy changes might require years to fully take hold.