Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Study: Some immigrant workers are raising the salaries of U.S. workers

Facebook depends on H-1B visa holders for 15 percent of its U.S. workforce.

A KEY COMPONENT of Donald Trump's plan to cut legal immigration in half, is the recognition of the value attracting "highly skilled" immigrants through the H-1B visa program.

The visa is highly popular in the health care and high-tech industries. They are so valued that U.S. companies plan to increase salaries in order to lure foreign workers to U.S. shores.

U.S. employers planned to pay high-skilled foreign workers with H-1B visas a median salary of $80,000 a year in fiscal year 2016, up from about $69,000 a decade earlier, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data.

The 2016 median salary reported for H-1B visa applicants was higher than the median salary paid to some U.S. workers in similar high-skill occupations, according to Pew. 

The study reveals, for example, U.S. workers in computer and mathematical occupations had a median salary of $75,036 in fiscal 2016, a slight increase from 2007, when the median salary was $73,979 (adjusted to 2016 dollars), according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data on all U.S. workers. The majority (60%) of all H-1B applicants from fiscal 2007 to 2016 were seeking employment in computer and mathematical occupations.

While immigrants are known for their work ethic, the picture the Trump administration presents of immigrant workers are those working in low-wage jobs in the service, construction and agricultural industries. The Pew study presents the other side of the coin to that argument.

The H-1B program allows companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations that require the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty, or its equivalent. 

The Trump administration backs a plan that would admit more high-skilled immigrants at the expense of ordinary immigrants without the desirable skills.

“We are going to protect our workers, defend our jobs and finally put America first,” the said Donald Trump when he unveiled his immigration proposals.

Few Americans will dispute these aspirations. Yet implicit in such rhetoric is that America does not need immigrants to meet its talent needs. This notion is mistaken. The data reveal a far different reality: American students trail their peers in too many countries, and American companies struggle to fill too many high-skilled positions that would allow them to thrive.

The program, started in 1990, with a cap of 85,000, allows skilled workers to come to the U.S. each year, for a period of up to 6 years. For fiscal year 2018, 199,000 applications were filed for the special visa. (As of July 24, physicians and a few other occupations are exempt from this cap.

H-1B specialty occupations may include fields such as science, engineering and information technology. For more information about the H-1B program, link to the H-1B Specialty Occupations Web page.

The median salary - by definition - is not the highest. Some of the biggest names in high-tech are willing to put out big bucks. Facebook planned to pay an average salary of $140,758 on 1,107 H-1B visa applications (a total that includes both first-time and renewal applications), the highest average salary paid among the 30 companies with the most visa approvals. Apple planned to pay a $138,563 average salary on 1,992 applications, while Google paid a $131,882 average salary on 2,517 applications.

The top prospective employers of foreign workers on H-1B visas provide information technology and other business services. Cognizant Tech Solutions, an IT consulting company based in New Jersey, had 21,459 applications approved in fiscal 2016, the most of any company. The next two top H-1B employers are IT companies based in India with offices in the U.S.: Infosys and Tata Consultancy.

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