Amid layoffs, tech firms continue to exploit H-1B visa programme: Study


New York: Amid massive ongoing layoffs in the tech sector, the top 30 H-1B visa employers hired 34,000 new workers in 2022 and laid off at least 85,000 workers in 2022 and early 2023, an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis found.

According to EPI researchers, tech and outsourcing companies are exploiting the highly-skilled H-1B visa program, created to fill labor shortages in professional fields, by laying-off a bevy of workers employed in firms like Meta, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, etc.

“Most employers hire H-1B workers because they can be underpaid and are de facto indentured to the employer,” the EPI research said.

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Also, 13 of the top 30 H-1B visa employers were outsourcing firms that underpay migrant workers and offshore US jobs to countries where labor costs are much lower.

“Its implementation has been bungled by the US Departments of Labor and Homeland Security,” the analysis said, adding that since employers aren’t required to test the US labor market to see if any workers are available before hiring an H-1B worker or pay their H-1B workers a fair wage, employers have exploited the program.

ECI said, in 2022, 48,000 employers registered with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in hopes of hiring at least one H-1B worker, and nearly 30,000 employers ultimately hired at least one new H-1B worker.

Citing an example, the ECI research said Amazon was at the top of the list in terms of both new H-1B workers and layoffs. It hired 6,400 new H-1B workers in 2022, and hired the most new H-1B workers in 2021 as well, when it hired nearly 6,200 workers. The tech giant has either recently laid off or plans to lay off 27,150 of its employees — more than twice the number of H-1B workers it hired in 2021 and 2022 combined.

Google and Meta, both long-time top H-1B employers, together hired over 3,100 new H-1B workers last year.The duo laid off 33,000 employees, almost 11 times the number of new H-1B workers they hired in 2022.

The H-1B program is the largest US temporary work visa program, with a total of approximately 600,000 workers employed by 50,000 employers.

Most of these workers are employed in occupations like computer systems analysis and software development.

Visas for new workers are capped at 85,000 per year, but many employers are exempt from that annual cap, including universities and their affiliated nonprofit entities, nonprofit research organizations, and government research organizations.

The study urged President Joe Biden to “implement regulations and policy guidance to prevent misuse of the program, stop the exploitation of college-educated migrant workers, and ensure the program is consistent with congressional intent”.

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( With inputs from )

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