Indian outsourcers, Microsoft top the list of H-1B users in '08

Infosys Technologies used the most overall; Microsoft led among U.S. firms

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Microsoft Corp. was the top U.S.-based recipient of H-1B visas in 2008, receiving approval for 1,037 visas, slightly more than in 2007. But the largest users of the program remain the major Indian offshore IT services firms -- and their use of H-1Bs appears to be increasing, according to government data.

(See a searchable listing of the companies receiving H-1B visas in 2008.)

The importance of the H-1B visa program to India-based outsourcers is clear from the fiscal 2008 approval list compiled by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). That fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

The H-1B visa program has been one of the most controversial issues in the IT industry. High-tech firms argue that the visas are needed so they can recruit talented graduates from U.S. universities. But opponents say the program is being used to push down wages and enable the offshoring of IT jobs.

The program is currently capped at 65,000 annually, with another 20,000 set aside for advanced-degree graduates of U.S. universities.

In the latest listing of visa holders, Infosys Technologies Ltd. remained the top user, receiving approval for 4,559 -- the same number it got in fiscal 2007. Otherwise, the numbers for other major users varied, with some of the offshore firms showing sizable increases in their use of the program.

In second place after Infosys was Wipro Ltd., which received approval for 2,678 H-1B visas in 2008. The year before, Wipro got 2,567.

Even though Satyam Computer Services Ltd. revealed late last year that it had substantially misreported its financial statements, leading to a scandal that has put its future at risk, it received approval for 1,917 H-1B visas. That's far in excess of the 1,396 it got in fiscal year 2007.

Fourth on the list was Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., which used 1,539 visas last year, almost double the 797 it got in 2007. Microsoft was fifth on the list, winning approval for 1,018 visas, 59 more than it got in 2007. Among other U.S. firms, Google Inc., which publicly complained in a blog post last year about the H-1B system, received 248 visas -- far less than it wanted. And Lehman Brothers Inc., which failed late last year, received 130 visas.

There has been a recent backlash in Congress over the use of the visas. The $787 billion federal stimulus bill it approved earlier this month imposed restrictions on H-1B use by financial services firms that receive bailout funds.

Federal enforcement of visa laws related to the use of H-1Bs may be growing as well. Earlier this month, federal agents said they had arrested 11 people in six states in a crackdown on H-1B visa fraud; unsealed documents showed how the visa process was used to undercut the salaries of U.S. workers.

At one point, Microsoft's H-1B hiring drew the attention of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who last month wrote to the company and urged it to give U.S. workers priority over H-1B visa holders in its plan to layoff 5,000 employees.

The USCIS distributes H-1B visas via a lottery system because applications have been exceeding the visa cap routinely in recent years.

The USCIS will begin taking applications for the next fiscal year on April 1 and will distribute the new visas on Oct. 1, at the start of the 2010 fiscal year.

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