Should the U.S. Government Raise the H-1B Cap?

Every year, employers register with the federal government for hundreds of thousands of H-1Bs. However, the H-1B cap means only a relatively small percentage of companies will actually succeed in securing an H-1B visa for a particular worker. What does that say about the H-1B system as a whole?

According to the latest data breakdown by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), some 72 percent of H-1B petitions are rejected without any kind of adjudication. Take a look at the chart:

NFAP argues that the limit and the high rejection rate ultimately harm American industry, as it prevents companies from securing highly specialized talent they might need from overseas. For years, Washington, D.C. think tanks have agreed with that idea. “Admitting such a low number of qualified workers hurts the high-tech industry in the United States and pushes the smartest people to work in competing countries like China,” the Heritage Foundation wrote all the way back in 2008. “Some U.S companies that are desperate for workers, like Microsoft, have moved certain branches to Canada and Mexico.”

However, critics of the H-1B system either insist that the cap on visas should be raised even higher, to force companies to search harder for talent from the pool of U.S. citizens, or the current H-1B lottery system should be tossed out in favor of a system based on higher wages, which would (they believe) direct the visas to only the most specialized and expensive talent. The current H-1B system, they argue, is largely a way for companies to contract workers at cheaper wages. 

“If there was really a skills shortage, you’d see more diversity in the tech industry—they’d hire underrepresented minorities and women, they’d be training people and investing, they’d be retaining incumbent workers, not laying them off by the thousands, and you wouldn’t see rampant age discrimination,” is how Howard University professor Ronil Hira summed it up to the Harvard Business Review a few years back.

Whatever the arguments (and the wild policy swings under various U.S. Presidential administrations), the cap hasn’t budged much over the past few decades. As far back as 1992, the U.S. government has set the H-1B visa cap at 65,000 (the 85,000 number in the graph above is that 65,000 cap, plus a 20,000-visa exemption for individuals who have obtained an advanced degree from a U.S. university). Since 1997, no H-1B visa under that cap has gone unused, with the exception of fiscal years 2001-2003, when the cap was raised to 195,000 and some visas weren’t utilized.

The big question now, of course, is the Biden administration’s new visa policies—what will it choose to do, and when? And will that include discussion about raising (or lowering) the cap on the H-1B?

25 Responses to “Should the U.S. Government Raise the H-1B Cap?”

  1. Tina Emam

    “If there was really a skills shortage, you’d see more diversity in the tech industry—they’d hire underrepresented minorities and women, they’d be training people and investing, they’d be retaining incumbent workers, not laying them off by the thousands, and you wouldn’t see rampant age discrimination,” is how Howard University professor Ronil Hira summed it up to the Harvard Business Review a few years back.

    And currently, THEY WOULDN’T BE TRYING TO REDUCE THE PAY OF REMOTE WORKERS.

  2. “The current H-1B system, they argue, is largely a way for companies to contract workers at cheaper wages.” of course that is correct, that why the H1B was produced in the first place, starting with Cara Carly Fiorina at HP. She was disaster and so is this ridiclious program.

    • Nohn O’Colmain

      Actually the foreign tech worker thing had its origins in bringing VonBraun and team to the US so we wouldn’t become the next Soviet acquisition; a noble enough reason. Now our own traitors use it to destroy our tech capability and pay off politicians with their obscene incomes that were once the salaries of citizen techies.

      • Jake_Leone

        Another earlier example is Nikola Tesla.

        And this points out something. Most of us recognize that there are some people in other countries with exceptional knowledge, drive, skills, talent. And we want them to come here and work.

        Unfortunately, half the H-1b visas are going to Offshore Outsourcing companies who bring in mediocre trainees. And a huge percentage of the of the H-1b visas are being used as a way to avoid hiring local candidates (DOJ vs Facebook, and by Facebook’s own admission to Federal investigators).

        How many H-1b visas do we really need? Maybe 10-15 thousand/yr, at most.

        Certainly, by kicking the Offshore Outsourcing companies out the H-1b program (they don’t belong there), we could effectively double the number of H-1b visas. If we then placed tighter restrictions on H-1b usage, including a requirement to recruit locally first. And, to provide market proof (with a limited number of retries, say 2 retries) for both the H-1b program and Green Card PERM process. We could cut down the number of H-1b visas to 10-15 thousand, with no decrease in innovation.

        An increase in salary, commensurate with demand yes would occur, but there would be no decrease in innovation. In fact, more Phd’s would enter the workforce. People working in other industries, some making 200k/yr, would be motivated to enter the tech workforce, if the salaries were competitive.

  3. Michael S.

    Absolutely NO. I spent the last 15 years moving job to job due to that. Corporate brings them in. I had to train them if I wanted the severance package and then I was laid off. Three companies.

  4. My Opinon

    Thanks all who support H/L using english names in comments.
    South Asia and other countries are happy that US prefer us over their own citizens in all aspects, job or student visa.
    Your internal and external policies are great.

  5. “NFAP argues that the limit and the high rejection rate ultimately harm American industry, as it prevents companies from securing highly specialized talent”
    This is simply not true. They bring 2 engineers at 30% salary from India with a few years of mediocre experience to replace one local engineer…

  6. Your Friend

    The decimation of the middle class was largely accomplished by out-sourcing and hiring foreign workers in-country. The fiction that the US has to hire learned people from outside the US is a ruse…..

    “The current H-1B system, they argue, is largely a way for companies to contract workers at cheaper wages.” of course that is correct, that why the H1B was produced in the first place, starting with Cara Carly Fiorina at HP. She was disaster and so is this ridiculous program.

    A lot of the people that get hired to do the “difficult jobs” don’t know how to do them, you see them on various help groups asking stupid questions.

  7. Jake_Leone

    Just bar the Offshore Outsourcing companies from using the H-1b program. Doing just that would:

    * Double the number of H-1b visas (without raising the cap)
    * Clear any fake backlog in just 2 years.
    * Eliminate the need for the brain-dead lottery
    * Eliminate 75% of immigration H-1b law business, and repeat business (saving millions of dollars)

    The Offshore Outsourcing companies do Zero-innovation, they remove jobs, the force Americans to train their H-1b replacement. The only reason why we allow them in the H-1b program at all (besides utter stupidity) is because of political bribes.

    Before talking about raising the cap, Do the right things first and fix the H-1b program so it cannot be a job-destroying program for millions of Americans in accounting, customer support, DB Admin, and HR…

    Biden could do this just be enacting Trump’s change from a Brain-Dead lottery for H-1b visas, to an allocation based upon salary. But that Biden will never do it because of political bribes. And all the 2024 Republican Presidential candidate has to do is point out the anemic recovery in order to get elected over Biden or some other bribe taking Democrat.

  8. “Should the U.S. Government Raise the H-1B Cap?”
    Uh, how about a very firm ‘NO’? Also, reduce the current corp of H-1B workers to zero, and mass-deport all of them, along with all the generations of their families.

  9. All comments refer to tech only … Agree with commenter above about Fiorina. H-P, under Fiorina, replaced every citizen on my team with severely underpaid guest workers on h-1’b, all paid below market. In addition, most were incredibly incompetent. The project went from moving towards successful to a complete failure after the citizens were replaced. This is but one of three examples in my career of all citizens being replaced with h-1b’s. Agree with other commenters about the serious need to replace the lottery with a wage-based system. The lottery leads to the lowest possible wages, exploitation, and only benefits the corporations, especially the offshore consulting firms. In no uncertain terms should any consideration be given to raising the cap. However, as the other commenter said, taking away all h-1b’s from consulting firms and allocating them directly to regular companies like Netflix and Microsoft would go a long way towards fixing problems and allow for filling much more of the true needs. In all likelihood, if we removed demand for low wage use of h-1b’s, we would actually have a surplus (unused permits). In addition, h-4’s need to be part of the same quota and regulations. It is insane that an h-4 can legally be paid $10 an hour to work as a senior data scientist. Without any doubt, the US has the worst run highly skilled immigration system in the advanced world, to the detriment of immigrants and citizens. Other key changes recommended include (1) requiring publication of all jobs contemplating h-1b and, or h-4 use at least a month in advance at a market rate in several key websites, ideally creating a new one run by a government agency, (2) mandating releasing wage details of all h-1b and h-4 salaries with job titles, companies, and similar, (3) increasing minimum wages for h-1bs for senior positions to at least $160,000 (more in costly areas), (4) greatly increasing fines, and (5) requiring a prison sentence for at least one senior company official for repeat and severe violations. … Given the current and history of severe violations and problems and the fact that the h-1b program resulted in the average techie earning the same today as fifteen years ago, a complete moratorium on new permits in tech for three to five years would be entirely justified.

  10. jake_leone

    They could double the effective number of visas, just by switching from a brain dead lottery to an allocation based upon salary. Just doing that would kick the Offshore Outsourcing companies out of the program.

    No, we don’t need more H-1b visas. We need to stop giving visas to companies that do ZERO innovation and that specialize only in removing jobs from the U.S. economy.

    But that 100 million dollars, Silicon Valley gave the Democratic campaign, has paid for stopping the Trump change to a salary based allocation of H-1b visas. That Trump change would have raised H-1b salaries by 25k/yr on average.

    Multiply 25k * 85,000 visas and you get a yearly cost saving of 2 billion dollars per year, 8 billion over the 1st (and only) Biden term. In other words, that 100 million paid back 80x the cost of the bribe.

    Career politicians are the biggest hindrance to the U.S. economy, because of their susceptibility to bribes and their only motivation is to stay in office, what ever the cost. And that cost includes millions of ordinary jobs in accounting, HR, DB Admin, and customer support.

  11. H/L, Refugees, illegal.. all imports, quick green cards to south asians and illegals etc all have a big network so all the laws will be created how to benefit them. No suprise if corruption get in to every part the government just like south asia.

  12. Carol Fletez

    NO…train on the job more people who have some of the skills needed and invest in our own people already here. Many of the people who represent themselves as highly qualified are definitely NOT…Ask some of the recruiters who have encountered great discrepancies in represented skills and actual achievement. It’s time to invest in our own citizens. First and foremost it is being used as an immigration program and not a specific time period worker visa. More than likely they contribute to the 40% overstay violators who are here illegally. It is meant to be a limited stay and go back home to make their country better.

  13. 2 Cents

    “No”

    H1B was intended for the Einsteins of the world, not a cheap labor source. If anything reduce it to 100. Let the corporations hire local talent. I’ve been in IT for a long time and the H1B for a very large percentage are not the cream of the crop. Many work longer hours to make up for their lack of knowledge and skill. Initially years ago they worked cheap. However, that has been changing where they can be paid more than the local talent.

  14. Nohn O’Colmain

    No.

    Rather than continuing to destroy US technical capability by displacing US Techies with frequently incompetent but dirt cheap and mindlessly obedient (as in “here Abu, sign off on these faulty heart valves USE AS IS PER ENGINEER or I’ll miss my quarterly bonus and you’ll go back to your dung hut…or “never mind a few bugs in the 737 control software, we got it done for $4/hr”) how about confiscating the obscene 6 and 7 figure multiple retirements of public officials to subsidize home grown technical excellence, and fight ageism that forces out our best techies thus restoring America? Won’t get traction with the traitors in the Beltway, sycophant media, and a few other places.

  15. Peter Brazitis

    I retired from the US Government as a computer engineer 25 years ago. Luckily, I had a pension plan that was good, but when I tried to get another position, my age did me in. I applied to over 400 companies (I kept a spreadsheet), got 3 job interviews and no job offers. I have used some of my time on community projects (a local charity, for example, had troubles with their computer network, and I solved their problems), but it grates my craw that older technical workers are never considered as qualified as a newly-minted H-1B,

  16. All h1b do is replace skilled labor with 2-3 low skilled labor.

    Disney
    Edison
    Many other companies.

    The worse experiences have had in management is when I had to manage h1b’s,from one of the giant outsourcing firms.

    • Jake_Leone

      Facebook is indicted on 2600+ counts of discrimination against local STEM/IT workers over just a 1.5 year period. Facebook admitted, to Federal Investigators, that the local STEM/IT workers it turns away are better qualified than the foreign workers it protects from local competition during the Green Card process.

      Over a ten year period, that amount of discrimination would amount to 18000 cases, or over half of Facebook’s engineering workforce. We have to ask, are half of Facebook’s job ads actually part of the Fake PERM process? And if that is true for Facebook, it is probably true for Big Tech and the rest of the tech companies that use the same discrimination (Fake/PERM) tactics?

      Get that fixed up first, then the number of job ads for STEM/IT workers will be more likely to mean something we should pay attention to.