Senators say offshore firms are H-1B visas' biggest users

Infosys is the leader, getting nearly 5,000 of the visas in 2006

WASHINGTON -- Nine foreign-based companies that specialize in offshoring U.S. technology jobs received about 20,000 H-1B visas last year, according to data released yesterday by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

The top user of H-1B visas is India-based Infosys Technologies Ltd., which received 4,908 visas in the 2006 fiscal year. It was followed by Wipro Ltd., which received 4,002 visas, and Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., with 3,046.

"Supporters claim the goal of the H-1B program is to help the American economy by allowing companies to hire needed foreign workers," Durbin said in a statement. "The reality is that too many H-1B visas are being used to facilitate the outsourcing of American jobs to other countries."

Grassley and Durbin are sending letters to the nine companies asking them a series of questions, including: How many visas petitions were submitted for the 2007 fiscal year? How many H-1B visa holders does your company currently employ? What is the average wage of the H-1B visa holder?

The question about the average wage paid to H-1B visa holders was apparently sparked by a Programmers Guild study (download PDF) from December 2005 that argued that foreign workers were being hired, in part, because they worked for less. The Guild's work, which was cited by the senators in their letters to the H-1B-using companies, found that H-1B workers were paid "$13,000 less than Americans in the same occupation and rate."

John Miano, the guild's founder, said in an e-mailed statement that he is glad to see the Senate "taking an interest in what actually goes on in the H-1B program. Most discussion of H-1B takes place at the 'spin' level. Lobbyists want Congress to make a decision based upon this being a program for the world's 'best and brightest' and 'highly skilled.' That spin sounds wonderful, but the reality is, this does not describe the H-1B program."

Ron Hira, an assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York who has testified before Congress on the H-1B issue, said that if the 20,000 is counted against the 65,000 visa cap for 2006, it accounts for 30% of all H-1B visas issued. He added that if the additional 20,000 visas made available for U.S. graduates with advanced degrees is included in the total, the percentage is 23%.

Hira said the data released by the Senate is a vindication for opponents, who have long argued that the H-1B visa program leads to the offshoring of U.S. jobs. That offshore outsourcing firms receive a substantial share of the visas "is not the business practice that was intended by Congress."

One thing that Grassley and Durbin accomplished is getting the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to provide data on how H-1B visas are used. Hira and other researchers have repeatedly voiced frustration over the lack of H-1B usage data coming from federal officials. Researchers have, instead, turned to prevailing wage reports collected by the U.S. Department of Labor by H-1B applicants for information.

In March, The Economic Policy Institute published a paper by Hira that also looked at H-1B usage. It offers findings similar to those included in the Grassley and Durbin letters, including ranking Infoys as the top firm. Hira looked at H-1B usage by U.S.-based technology firms as well.

Other companies receiving letters from the senators, and the number of H-1B visas they received in 2006, include: Satyam Computer Services Ltd., 2,880; Patni Computer Systems Inc., 1,391; Larsen & Toubro Infotech Ltd., 947; I-Flex Solutions Inc., 817; Tech Mahindra Americas Inc., 770; and Mphasis Corp., 751.

Although the companies were described as foreign based in a statement from the two senators, Electronic Data Systems Corp. in Plano, Texas, owns a majority share of Mphasis. And I-Flex is a majority-owned subsidiary of Oracle Corp.

Durbin and Grassley, who obtained their data from the USCIS, last month jointly introduced the H-1B and L-1 Visa Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act of 2007, which includes increased H-1B enforcement.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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