Opposition to the H-1B visa comes from both right and left. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions has called tech companies’ claims of a labor shortage a “hoax” designed to smooth the path for cheap guest workers. Ron Hira, a research associate at the union-connected Economic Policy Institute, in February attacked the H-1B program, noting that in 2013, Indian firms Infosys and Tata were the top H-1B employers in the U.S., with Infosys receiving 6,269 of the visas and Tata 6,193. “Because of this, it’s likely that Americans lost more than 12,000 jobs to H-1B workers in just one year,” Hira wrote in an EPI blog. “These leading offshore outsourcing firms use the H-1B program to replace American workers and to facilitate the offshoring of American jobs,”
STARTUP VISA PROPOSED FOR U.S.
Another industry group, the Partnership for a New American Economy – whose co-chairs include such corporate and political titans as Rupert Murdoch of News Corp., former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Disney CEO Bob Iger, and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney – contends the H-1B visa creates new jobs for Americans. By the group’s calculations, each H-1B visa spins off two additional jobs for U.S.-born workers within seven years. The partnership wants the H-1B cap set according to the state of the economy, and notes that the economy has tripled in size since the cap was fixed in 1990. Among the group’s other proposals are a Canada-style startup visa, and allowing foreign students to apply for permanent residency while on student visas, so they wouldn’t need an H-1B. However, the leadership presence of Disney’s Iger is unlikely to help advance the group’s cause, with the company now under attack over the allegations it replaced American IT employees with foreign H-1B workers.
Innovation-minded international MBAs might take hope in a Senate bill introduced in January by Republican Sen. Jerry Moran and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner. The Startup Act would create an “entrepreneur visa” for which up to 75,000 people would be eligible. But any hope of change via that avenue must be tempered by the time-frame of the two Senators’ work: they’ve been struggling to get such a bill passed for more than three years. Ironically, the Canadian “startup visa” promoted via a cheeky billboard near Silicon Valley in 2013 (“H-1B Problems? PIVOT to CANADA”) was modeled on an early proposal from Moran and Warner.
SENATOR TRIES, AND TRIES AGAIN
Also, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch in January introduced the Immigration Innovation Act of 2015, or “I-Squared Act,” which would raise the H-1B cap to between 115,000 and 195,000 depending on market conditions and visa demand. Hatch has bipartisan support, but his previous version of the bill, in 2013, dropped dead in the Republican-controlled House over path-to-citizenship provisions for undocumented immigrants.
H-1B visa approvals are concentrated in certain regions, with half going to nine metropolitan areas, and a quarter to only three, New York, Dallas, and San Jose (Silicon Valley), the Brookings Institute found in a 2013 study.
Foreign MBAs find some employers much more willing than others to go through the cost and paperwork of hiring them, says Laleh Rongere, associate director of international student programs at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. “The companies here in Silicon Valley, they really, really acknowledge the value of hiring international students,” Rongere says. “They are pretty familiar with the H-1B process, they already have their own immigration lawyer and they have done this for many, many years. We don’t really need to convince them to hire our international students – they really acknowledge their value.”
GMAC data suggests a brightening outlook for international MBAs wishing to work in the U.S. The council’s 2015 recruiters report shows 28% of surveyed U.S. firms planned to hire international business graduates needing legal documentation such as a visa, while 47% said they wouldn’t. That’s a slight improvement, from an international MBA’s perspective, over 2014, when 21% stated plans to hire internationals, and 53% said they wouldn’t.
‘NO MAGIC LIST’ OF FIRMS HIRING FOREIGN MBAS
Complicating matters for foreign MBAs is the unstable nature of corporate recruiting patterns. Students often come to Sheryle Dirks, associate dean of recruiting at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business, wanting to know which companies can be counted on to make H-1B hires. “I understand students’ desire to have a finite list of companies, both those that do hire and those that do not. There is no magic list,” Dirks says. “The answer to that question will change not just on a year-by-year basis, but sometimes season by season. It can change by business need or even a particular potential hire.”
One division of a company may hire H-1B workers while another will not. A firm may hire scientists under the H-1B, but not MBAs. “The reasons tend to be very specific to their company, to their hiring model, to their business,” Dirks says.
Working in favor of international MBAs is many firms’ appetite for employees with backgrounds of work overseas. “These are global companies that really do have presence around the globe, and students that come from other countries often have perspective on culture and business,” Dirks says. “They bring things to the table that are unique and that add value.”
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