H-1B demand this year will be fast, furious

Proponents will call demand come April 1 evidence of need while opponents will emphasize offshore outsourcing is behind demand

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Asked about the applications, Syntel, said in a statement: "The number of slots in LCAs that Syntel has filed is not indicative of the number of actual workers placed at a given location, nor does it accurately reflect our future hiring plans."

Syntel said the Labor Department allows a company to file an LCA for an unlimited number of workers per application. "It takes the same amount of time and effort on an employer's part to file [and for the government to approve] an LCA for 100 slots as it does for a single slot," the company said. Therefore, the company said it decided that "filing LCAs for up to 100 potential workers per application instead of a single application" cuts down on paperwork for both the government and the employer.

Ron Hira, a Rochester Institute of Technology public policy professor who studies H-1B issues, said, "It is plainly obvious that the LCA process has so many loopholes to render it a joke. Heavy users of the H-1B program should be making good faith efforts to recruit American workers, but [they] exploit loopholes that enable them to bypass American workers."

Hira added: "And the wage floors are so low that the LCA process invites firms to use the H-1B program for cheaper labor."

Among the immigration attorneys expecting a high number of H-1B petitions this week is Ian Macdonald, co-chairman of Littler Mendelson's Global Mobility and Immigration practice. He said a lottery may be implemented this year and will result in some casualties in which companies don't get the workers they need.

"The demand for H-1Bs is a strong indicator that the economy is improving," Macdonald said.

The bad news, he added, is that in many of the areas where the economy is improving, highly skilled workers are needed but the supply of such workers could remain tight if visas have to be distributed through a lottery. "The H-1B category is used to obtain highly skilled workers in areas where there are no U.S. workers or a limited amount of U.S. workers," he said.

Macdonald pointed out that if outsourcing companies are applying for H-1B visas, it means they want to hire people to do work in the United States instead of sending all of their work overseas. The U.S. gains tax revenue from that practice, he noted, even if the employers that applied for the visas are based in foreign countries.

Former Rep. Bruce Morrison, who as a Democrat from Connecticut was the author of the 1990 immigration legislation that created the H-1B visa, recently testified in Congress about the H-1B issues in support the IEEE-USA's position. He believes that a better way for the U.S. to address its need for highly skilled workers would be to make permanent residency available to foreigners who hold degrees from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering and math -- the so-called STEM fields.

Morrison said he agrees that more skilled workers are needed, but he argued that the U.S. should meet this need by keeping foreign graduates of U.S. universities here.

"By getting green cards right away, there is no financial incentive not to hire Americans if they are qualified," said Morrison. Moreover, he noted that employers would lose their power to take advantage of foreign workers if U.S. policy shifted to an emphasis on green card holders with permanent residency rather than people living here temporarily under H-1B visas.

"All those disadvantages to American workers go away if you use green cards," said Morrison.

Hira wants changes to the H-1B program. "The principal problem with the H-1B visa program is not the cap," he said. "Instead, the problem is that the majority of H-1Bs are being used to substitute for American workers. The data show this quite clearly -- most H-1Bs are being used for cheaper indentured labor and also for offshoring jobs."

Hira points to legislation recently introduced by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The bill, S.600, is modeled after similar bills that Grassley had previously introduced. It would raise wages for H-1B workers, give U.S. workers an opportunity to compete for open jobs, and limit the visa's use by IT services providers.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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