Offshore outsourcing companies continued to make up the majority of the top 10 H-1B visa users in 2011, according to new government data. These offshore firms have been adding employees by the thousands as their revenues increase.
Cognizant, a New Jersey-based IT services provider with major operations overseas, led the list. The company had 4,222 initial or new visas approved and 1,493 renewal petitions.
Google was last on the list, with 383 new H-1B visas and 232 renewals.
Offshoring is showing signs of being a major political issue this year, but opinions remain divided.
Top H-1B visa approvals by company
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President Barack Obama highlighted it in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. But he hasn't coupled offshore outsourcing with visa usage. One of the leading Republican candidates, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has called for eliminating the H-1B cap and says the cap policy is wrong.
The data for this story comes from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. One list shows new applications for H-1B visas; the second list shows the combined totals for new visas and renewals. A H-1B visa must be renewed every three years.
The U.S. issues 85,000 H-1B visas annually. Of that number, 20,000 are reserved for advanced degree graduates of U.S. universities.
In total, the new visa applications from the top 10 users account for 22% of all the visas allowed by the U.S. each year. But offshore providers probably have a much larger percentage of the visas issued under the 65,000 cap, which includes graduates for foreign universities. An exact breakdown isn't available.
"Once again, the offshore outsourcing industry [is] the major [beneficiary] of the H-1B program," said Ron Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. "Eight of the top 10 H-1B employers use offshoring business models and are clearly exploiting loopholes in the H-1B program."
Approvals for new H-1B visas
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Hira believes "politicians are subsidizing the offshoring of jobs by keeping the H-1B loopholes in place, costing American workers hundreds of thousands of jobs."
Obama's attack on outsourcing has mostly been focused on manufacturing, though he has also been urging companies to in-source more work. A recent White House policy forum looked at that specific issue and included IT.
Hira said that Obama should support some of the changes being sought U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "Closing those loopholes would create and retain hundreds of thousands of American jobs and wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime," he said.
One restriction sought by Grassley and Durbin would prohibit any firm from having more than 50% of their workforce using H-1B and L-1 visas, which are used to transfer company personnel from an overseas office to the U.S.