Are Indians Using All the H-1B Visas?

If one follows the press, one would assume Indian companies or Indian nationals use all the H-1B visas. Yet the issue is much more complicated than that. In fact, a focus on about a handful of top-using companies has distorted the overall picture of these visas used for highly skilled foreign nationals across the U.S. economy.

To understand the issue, it’s necessary to divide the use of H-1B visas into two separate categories: 1) H-1Bs petitioned for by India-based companies and 2) H-1Bs received by Indian foreign nationals. While there is an overlap between the two groups, these are not the same thing.

H-1B Visas Used by Indian Companies

A January 2011 headline from the technology blog of the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill read: “GAO: Disproportionate share of H-1B Visas going to India-based staffing firms.” The article noted, “Almost half of all H-1B visa holders are from India.” The perception that Indian companies use most of the H-1Bs is often utilized by critics to undermine support for H-1B visas more generally.

One of the ironies of the criticism of Indian companies and H-1B visas is that the use of H-1Bs by such companies has declined quite a bit in recent years. As a March 2010 report from the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), where I am executive director, explained, “USCIS data show in FY 2009, less than 6 percent of new H-1B petitions went to Indian technology companies. Indentifying 25 India-based firms one finds Indian companies utilized fewer than 5,000 (4,809) new H-1B visas in FY 2009. Moreover, tracking these same companies over time, shows that the number of new H-1B visas utilized by Indian technology firms fell by 70 percent between FY 2006 and FY 2009.” (See Figure 1 below.) Based on the release of a list of the top 10 companies for new H-1Bs in FY 2010, it appears the Indian company use of H-1Bs was greater in 2010 than in 2009.

The NFAP report also explained that it is simplistic to assume that visas utilized by an Indian technology company (or any other company) means a loss of jobs in the United States: “When Indian technology companies or other non-Indian IT service providers perform work in the United States it is because U.S. companies believe such work makes their businesses more profitable . . . To the extent Indian (and non-Indian) companies performing information technology service work allow U.S. businesses to focus on core functions, run more efficiently, and enhance shareholder wealth, U.S. companies can hire more people in the long run by becoming more profitable.” This is not the popular perception but just because a viewpoint isn’t popular doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Moreover, when an individual enters the U.S. workforce, he or she earns a salary and spends that money. That spending helps support other jobs in the economy. In addition, when new workers help increase productivity they also help enhance the standard of living in an economy.

                                     Figure 1

H-1B Visas for Indians

A separate issue involves H-1B visas received by Indian nationals. The data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) show Indians are a key source of H-1Bs. This reflects the size of the Indian population, the education level of Indian workers and students, and interest in working in the United States. Many of these individuals have graduated from U.S. universities and are hired off U.S. campuses.

(Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, National Foundation for American Policy)

In most years, Indians have not been a majority of the new hires on H-1Bs. (See Table 1.) Examining data from USCIS for “initial employment” one can see Indians represented about 45 percent of H-1Bs in 2000 and 2001, dropped to under 30 percent with the economic downturn in 2002 and 2003, then rose to over 50 percent from 2006 to 2008. In 2009, the Indian percentage dropped to 39 percent. (“Initial employment is the term to denote an H-1B used by a new H-1B visa holder, rather than someone renewing status or switching to a new employer.)

Table 1

H-1B Petitions for Indian Nationals Approved for Initial Employment: FY 2000-2009

Year Percentage used by Indians Number used by Indians
2000 44.5 percent 60,757
2001 45.2 percent 90,668
2002 20.4 percent 21,066
2003 27.8 percent 29,269
2004 46.0 percent 60,062
2005 49.0 percent 57,349
2006 54.4 percent 59,612
2007 55.4 percent 66,504
2008 56.5 percent 61,739
2009 39.4 percent 33,961
43.9 percent (average) 54,098 (average)

                                                                (Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)

Table 2 provides a look at Indian nationals compared to those from other countries in being hired on new H-1B visas. Table 2 shows in FY 2009, Indians utilized 39.4 percent of the petitions approved for “initial employment,” while the next largest recipients were individuals from China (10.4 percent), Canada (5.3 percent), Philippines (4.3 percent), South Korea (2.5 percent) and United Kingdom (2.3 percent).

Table 2

H-1B Petitions Approved for Initial Employment by Country of Birth in FY 2009

Country of Birth Percentage of H-1Bs Approved for Initial Employment
39.4 percent
China 10.4 percent
Canada 5.3 percent
Philippines 4.3 percent
South Korea 2.5 percent
United Kingdom 2.3 percent
Japan 2.0 percent
Mexico 1.9 percent

 (Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)


Although the annual H-1B cap is 65,000, there is also an additional 20,000 slots permitted for individuals who receive a masters degree or higher from a U.S. university. H-1B visa holders hired by U.S. universities or non-profit research institutes are exempt from the numerical limits. Overall, we normally see a little more than 100,000 H-1Bs approved in a year for “initial employment.” That annual flow of new H-1B visa holders comes to about 0.06 percent of the U.S. labor force. It should be obvious that while such professionals are important to many employers and the United States as a whole, given this small percentage it is difficult to argue they are creating widespread joblessness or other “evils” that are sometimes attributed to them.

Lessons for India from Operation Osama

The main lesson for India from the spectacular military operation conducted by the CIA and the U.S. Special Forces is that nations that are too moralistic and legalistic in dealing with the complex challenge of state-sponsored terrorism usually end up as hapless victims. Only pro-active covert operations conducted by the counter-terrorism agencies and Special Forces can raise the cost for the adversary sufficiently enough to deter him from launching terror strikes.

There is no reason why terrorist-criminals like Hafiz Sayeed, Masood Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim should be walking freely, planning future terrorist strikes and delivering inflammatory anti-Indian speeches from Pakistani soil. They can and must be brought to justice through covert operations launched by Indian counter-terrorism agencies in concert with armed forces personnel of the Special Forces.

The U.S. and Israel have repeatedly demonstrated their determination to eliminate non-state actors who plan terror strikes against them. In the interest of national security, India too must do the same. The major requirements for pro-active operations are political will, meticulous intelligence acquisition and the requisite counter-terrorism and military capabilities. The government must permit the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) to re-establish covert operations capabilities that were dismantled under a prime minister’s orders around 1997. Air assault capabilities exist with the armed forces, but these need to be modernised and qualitatively upgraded.

The killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces in a compound half-way between the Pakistan Military Academy and the Baloch Regiment Centre in Abbottabad, is undoubtedly a significant achievement in the annals of counter-terrorism. A total of 40 U.S. troops, largely Navy SEALs, were involved in the heliborne operation launched from Afghan soil. Of them, 24 Special Forces troops rappelled down directly into the compound, engaged Osama and his party in a fire-fight and killed him. While one helicopter had to be destroyed, there were no American casualties.

The Pakistan army and the ISI’s double game has been finally exposed. While everybody is now saying ‘I had told you so’, it was as clear as daylight to all perceptive analysts that there was no way a man on weekly kidney dialysis could hide in the caves of Afghanistan and that he had to be hiding somewhere in Pakistan close to a military hospital. It has now been proved beyond an iota of doubt that the ISI is a rogue organisation and a perpetrator of Jihadi terrorism. It must be dismantled no matter what it takes. And, the Pakistan army must be disciplined through the denial of aid to conduct itself with honour and dignity like all regular armies do and submit itself to the control of the civilian government. The international community should join hands to bring about these fundamental changes in Pakistan’s polity. It will not be easy, but the attempt must be made.

In his televised address on Monday morning, President Obama had referred to the families of the victims of 9/11 and said justice had been done. The families of the victims of 26/11 in Mumbai are still awaiting justice. They will not get it from Pakistani courts.

Could India Do An Abbottabad?

Just like the United States, India too has a host of enemies who have taken shelter or been given sanctuary deep inside Pakistan. So how likely is it that New Delhi could pull off a daring commando assault against them? A chorus of Indian voices (here and here) is asking precisely this question. The chief of the Indian air force, responds, somewhat cryptically, in the affirmative. One might note that the country recently took receipt of six C-130 HERCULES transport aircraft outfitted for special-forces operations, and that there is no doubt that the air force has the wherewithal to strike terrorist camps located in the Pakistani portion of Kashmir. India also maintains a well-regarded naval commando unit.

But does the Indian military possess the capacity for audacious direct raids on high-profile terrorist targets located further away from its home turf? The short answer is no.

A series of technical, operational and political constraints all but rule out such an operation. First, the Indian capacity for sophisticated, multi-dimensional (combining on-the-ground operatives, satellite reconnaissance and communications intercepts) tracking of terrorism suspects is virtually non-existent. As Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta note in their new book, India’s external intelligence service, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), possesses a good reputation for covert action but performs poorly with actual intelligence gathering and analysis. Former army chief General V.P. Malik also points to the pervasive lack of coordination among the various parts of India’s national security machinery as a major obstacle to launching cross-border commando raids.

The embarrassing inability to mount a speedy airlift of National Security Guard commandos the 850 miles from New Delhi to Mumbai during the November 2008 terrorist strike calls into severe question India’s operational capacity to launch complex, lightning-fast airborne assaults far inside hostile territory. And one important reason that U.S. helicopters flying out of Afghanistan were able to arrive at the Bin Laden compound undetected is that the bulk of Pakistani air defense systems are oriented toward India.

Even if Indian military forces did possess the means for rapier-like, long-distance assaults, they would have to be prepared to engage in a continuous fight on their way home once Pakistani authorities discovered the intrusion. Washington insists that Pakistani officials were not informed in advance of the operation and Pakistani aircraft were reportedly scrambled as U.S. helicopters made their way back to Afghanistan. Yet one of the most intriguing questions surrounding the episode is how American forces, for the 40 minutes they were on the ground, managed to avoid contact with either local police units or the large military presence resident in Abbottabad. Needless to say, an Indian assault team could not count on having such an operationally permissive environment.

Finally it is very difficult to believe that highly risk-averse political leaders in New Delhi would even countenance a raid that has the all but certain probability of sparking a large-scale clash with Pakistani forces, which in turn could escalate more broadly. Hawkish commentators have long condemned the political class for perpetuating India’s image as a “soft state” and for lacking the will for bold, decisive action to defend the country’s security interests. A former vice chief of army staff complains, for example, that “policymakers cannot take hard decisions, and are responsible for the perception that we are a soft state and so can succumb to pressure.” Brajesh Mishra, a former national security adviser to the prime minister, similarly laments that “India is now regarded as a soft state.”

Yet the sense of fundamental caution, most recently on display in New Delhi’s remarkable quiescence following the Mumbai terrorist attack, is deeply rooted among politicians.The argument is making the rounds these days that the Mumbai strike, often regarded as “India’s 9/11” was a game-changer – that India’s leaders have now reached the end of their patience with Pakistan and thus will respond forcefully to the next terrorist assault emanating from that country. Of course, the same thing was said following the brazen December 2001 attack upon the Indian Parliament.

My own guess is that novelist Aravind Adiga may have a more accurate prediction regarding New Delhi’s response to the next major terrorist strike: “The government will immediately threaten to attack Pakistan, then realize that it cannot do so without risking nuclear war, and finally beg the U.S. to do something. Once it is clear that the government has failed on every front – military, tactical and diplomatic – against the terrorists, senior ministers will appear on television and promise that, next time, they will be prepared.”

Such forbearance may very well be the better part of strategic virtue, given Pakistani frailties. But if this is how India’s leaders are likely react to an attack on their own soil, one should not expect heroic actions further afield.

(This post originally appeared in the FPA India blog.)

US Errs in Equating Wahabbism with Islam

After the execution of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden on May 2, U.S. military personnel organized a burial at sea for the Yemeni, complete with Islamic rites. Such an action is in line with a string of others from the U.S. side, that identifies Islam with what is an entirely separate faith, Wahabbism.

Since its discovery three centuries ago, the Wahabbi faith has evolved in a direction toxic to international harmony. Resembling the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in its absolutist and exclusivist doctrines, Wahabbism got traction by its success in convincing the Al Saud family in Saudi Arabia that it was the essence of Islam. In fact, its doctrines are a perversion of the mercy, benevolence and compassion of the true faith, which was revealed more than fifteen centuries ago to Prophet Mohammad.

The Al Sauds – in common with most other Middle East heriditary rulers – owe their ascension to power to western countries, in the case of Saudi Arabia, the then British Empire. The harsh dictums of the Wahabbi faith were found to be useful in convincing several unlettered bedouin that the Sufi variant of Islam favored by the Turkish caliphate was the antithesis of the faith, when in fact it expressed its moderate essence quite well. London used the Wahabbis to create a divide between the Caliphate and the Arabs, a policy justified by the rivalry between Turkey and the UK. Subsequently, in the 1950s and until the start of the 1980s, Wahabbism was found effective as an antidote to the Arab nationalism preached by Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ahmed ben Bella and other secular leaders. In the 1980s, the new faith became the core of the CIA-created resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Since then, however, the ill effects of the policy of relying on fanatics to achieve geopolitical goals has become evident. The world’s “Archipelago of Terror” relies entirely on Wahabbism and its twin, Khomeinism, for recruits. Within Muslim societies, both Wahabbists as well as Khomeinsts are working ceaselessly to create and sustain regimes based on intimidation and injustice. Although the overwhelming majority of Muslims still have the moderate reflexes of the true faith (that revealed to Prophet Mohhammad, in contrast to that created by Abdel Wahab and Ayatollah Khomeini), sadly the US, the U.K. and other western countries persist in regarding Wahabbism as “pure” Islam.

Small wonder that so many Muslims are unable to understand that Wahabbism is not identical to Islam, but is in fact its antipode. It is to Islam what Communism is to Catholicism.

This is why it was wrong to have given a Muslim burial to Bin Laden. The man was not a Muslim but a Wahabbi. His life and beliefs were far removed from the qualities of mercy and compassion that suffuse the Quran. By pretending that those following his toxic creed are Muslims, the U.S. has made more distant the day when the Muslim Ummah will throw off the choking, constricting cloak of Wahabbism-Khomeinism that seeks to entomb the true faith for the benefit of a small elite of fanatics, the elite to which Osama bin Laden belonged.

Indian Students to the U.S. Have Nearly Doubled in 10 Years

A surprising development in recent years is the dramatic growth in Indians coming to the United States to study. In a phenomenon that has largely gone unreported, the number of Indians studying at American colleges and universities has nearly doubled since the year 2000.

Figure 1 below shows the almost steady rise in Indian enrollment in the United States, based on figures compiled by the Institute of International Education. One can see that in the 2000/2001 academic year the number of Indian students enrolled was below 60,000, while by 2009/2010, the total exceeded 100,000.


To gain a better perspective on the numbers, one can see below in Table 1 the large percentage increase in the enrollment of Indian students in the U.S. since 2000. Between the 2000/2001 and 2009/2010 academic years the number of Indian students enrolled at American colleges and universities increased by 92 percent. That is an extraordinary figure by any measurement.

Table 1
Indian Students Enrolled at U.S. Colleges and Universities

Academic Year Number of Indian Students Enrolled
2000/2001 54,664
2001/2002 66,836
2002/2003 74,603
2003/2004 79,736
2004/2005 80,466
2005/2006 76,503
2006/2007 83,833
2007/2008 94,563
2008/2009 103,620
2009/2010 104,897

Yet the percentage increase in the enrollment of Indian students in the U.S. is even larger if one goes back to 1995. In the 1995-1996 academic year, only 31,743 Indians were enrolled to study in America. That means Indian enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities rose by over 200 percent between 1995 and 2009.



Increases in Graduate or Undergraduate Students From India?

Students pursuing graduate degrees are a primary source of the increase in Indian enrollment in the last decade. In the 2000/2001 academic year, 12,259 Indian undergraduates studied in the U.S. compared to 15,192 in 2009/2010. However, in 2000/2001, the number of Indian graduate students totaled 39,797, but rose to 68,290 by 2009-2010.

Yet those number do not tell the whole story. As Table 2 shows below, Optional Practical Training (OPT) makes up over 18 percent of Indian enrollment in the United States. OPT permits temporary employment for training that is “directly related to the student’s major area of study,” according to Immigration Customs and Enforcement.

Table 2

Indian Students in U.S. by Academic Level: 2009/2010

Academic Level Number Percentage of Total
Undergraduate 15,192 14.5 percent
Graduate 68,290 65.1 percent
Non-Degree 1,758 1.7 percent
OPT 19,657 18.7 percent
TOTAL 104,897

The Implications of These Numbers

The rise in Indian students coming to America reflects positive trends in both countries. First, since most students generally must pay a substantial portion of their education out of family or individual assets, the rise in U.S. enrollment reflects increased wealth in India. Second, the enrollment increase also indicates the rise in technology companies in both India and the United States and the importance of education in technical fields. Third, this is a good news story for American universities, showing their ability to attract outstanding students from all over the world.

A final, important implication of these numbers is that international education makes the globe smaller and a better place to live. Indians who stay in the United States after graduation have the opportunity to build a career that may involve interaction with people or companies in India. Students who complete their studies in America and return to India have acquired greater knowledge of an important market for both customers and commercial partners. And American students gain the opportunity of getting to know individuals and cultures from halfway around the world without even having to leave a college campus.

(Figures and Tables Source: Institute of International Education)