Guest post by Madhu Nair
By definition, the H1B is a non-immigrant visa issued by the U.S. allowing companies to recruit foreign nationals in specialty occupations under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The act, practiced by a number of multi-national companies, has been their gateway to some of the best talents in the world. Aspiring workers from emerging economies like India and China have been quick to catch in on the rush. The practice gave companies an edge over their peers as it reduced their working capital, increased efficiency and scaled up their businesses. For employees, on the other hand, this was an opportunity to realize and live the American Dream.
But if a recent report is to be believed, the quality of H1B workers does not fit the category of “the best and the brightest”. Norman Matloff, professor of computer science at the University of California in Davis along with the Economic Policy Institute, published a study which compared U.S. and foreign IT workers’ salaries, rates of PhD awards, doctorates earned and employment in research and development to determine if H1B visa holders had skills beyond those of U.S. IT workers. As per Matloff, the study did not give any indication of exceptional talent among the H1B holders. He says, “We thus see that no best and brightest trend was found for the former foreign students in either computer science or electrical engineering,” He further writes, “On the contrary, in the CS case the former foreign students appear to be somewhat less talented on average, as indicated by their lower wages, than the Americans.”
Nevertheless, managers at top companies insist they still are not able to source the best minds domestically, forcing them to look beyond boundaries. For Peter Cappelli, professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School, this does not sound reasonable enough. In a Wall Street Journal article in October 2011, he argues, “Some of the complaints about skill shortages boil down to the fact that employers can’t get candidates to accept jobs at the wages offered. That’s an affordability problem, not a skill shortage.”
For countries such as India and China, who account for a major share in the H1B program, this should set alarm bells ringing as it may affect their nationals directly. Coming to India, the number of H1B visa approvals saw an upward trend for the year 2012. In the fiscal year 2012, 130,000 H category visas were issued as against 114,000 issued in FY 2011, an increase of 15%. The year, however, saw a 26% increase in denial rate with respect to the number of applications. The rise in denials was mainly attributed to the growing concerns over the business models used by Indian IT consulting companies. This led to heightened scrutiny by the consulate officials which saw the number of approvals go down.
With U.S. still recovering from the 2008 crash and Eurozone yet to come out of the sovereign debt crisis, the current scenario does not look good either. While there is no immediate threat to H1B workers, a relook at the quality of education may perhaps save them the axe. India and China both boast of a large number of highly skilled workers. However, with the current report out, officials and analysts in the U.S. may hesitate to hire anybody from these countries.
The solution, however complex it may be, lies in accurately nipping the problem at the source. There is a need for governments to work together towards a future void of any such conflicts that may lead to a human resource problem. The interests of US’ domestic workers need to be protected, whereas those of H1B applicants also need to be carefully studied. A pragmatic and sensible solution will not only prevent discontent among many, but also lead to a better environment at workplaces.