Older IT pros pushed aside by younger H-1B workers

H-1B visas go primarily to people who are under 35, suggesting that the threat of age discrimination may be central to much of the hostility surrounding the controversial program.

A woman use a gun to threaten a birthday cake with many candles.
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The H-1B visa program sparks debate on many fronts, but age may be at the heart of the discord: The foreign workers who use the visa to come to the U.S. are overwhelmingly young.

Of all the H-1B applications approved by the U.S. last year, nearly 75% were for people who were 34 years old or younger. Of that group, 38% were 29 years old or younger, according to government data.

Does H-1B use affect the composition of workforces? It's hard to say. In recent years, many major technology companies -- including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce and Facebook -- have been reporting the demographics of their personnel because they're aware of the importance of diversity, but they haven't included data about the age range of their employees.

But when tech industry leaders argue that employers need more H-1B workers, they are also -- by extension -- calling for younger IT professionals. Age and the H-1B can't be separated. What impact is this having on older tech workers?

Much of the discussion of the H-1B visa focuses on cases of displacement, such as the situations at Disney and Southern California Edison (SCE), where offshore providers of IT services brought in H-1B workers who were then trained by soon-to-be replaced U.S. workers.

But these headline-grabbing incidents may be deflecting attention from what some see as the core issue of the H-1B debate: age discrimination. Many of those displaced at Disney and SCE were older, certainly above 35, say affected employees.

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