Bay Area ranks high in demand for specialized foreign workers, study shows
Posted on July 19, 2012
You might have noticed something called “#metroH1B” trending on Twitter this morning and wondered what it was and why so many people were chattering about it.
An H-1B is a type of visa that allows foreign workers with specialized skills to work for U.S. companies that sponsor them on a temporary basis. Workers receive the visas in up to three-year increments with an option to extend up to six years. People who hold these visas can apply for permanent residence, and their H-1B visas can be extended for a year while they wait for their green cards. The government uses fees paid by the companies to fund training programs intended to address skills shortages in the U.S.
Critics say the H-1B program takes jobs away from American workers, but many companies say they could not hire the workers they need without it.
Today, the Brookings Institution released a first-of-its-kind study on metropolitan demand for such workers (hence, “metroH1B”).
Demand in the Bay Area is particularly high. The San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont region ranks third in the nation, with an average of 16,333 workers with H-1B visas in 2010-11, and the San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara region ranked fourth with 14,926. New York was first with 52,921 workers with H-1B visas, Los Angeles ranked second with 18,048, and Washington was fifth with 14,569.
Most of the workers have scientific, mathematic, engineering or technical skills. In 92 of 106 high-demand metropolitan areas, more than half of the visa requests came from companies looking for workers with those skills. According to the report, requests from companies typically exceed the available visas every year.
Over the last decade, the program has funneled $1 billion into training programs for U.S. workers. But the funds aren’t being distributed based on the demand for H-1B workers. For instance, high-demand areas received $3.09 per trainee, while low-demand areas received $15.26.
The study concluded that:
The U.S. government should develop an independent standing commission on labor and immigration removed from politics that can adjust the cap for H-1B visa applicants based on local employer skills needs and regional economic indicators. The federal government should also channel H-1B visa fees to skills training in areas that are currently being filled by H-1B workers at the metropolitan level.
The Brookings Institution hosted a discussion this morning, broadcast on the Web, about its report. Panelists emphasized the need for a more localized approach to training for U.S. workers.
“We need to match skills to demand. We’re calling on the U.S. government to do that,” said study co-author Jill H. Wilson. “We need to make these decisions based on evidence, including on a local level.”
Also participating on the panel was Vivek Wadhwa, a tech entrepreneur and academic who is a vocal proponent of immigration reform. Wadhwa advocated creating a “startup visa” for foreign workers who want to start companies and said the banking industry was siphoning away the countries’ top students who could be working in the tech sector. He also argued for immigration reform at the local level.
“Let Arizona close their doors,” he said. “Silicon Valley and New York should be able to open their doors, and we’ll see who wins.”
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