How Many Foreign Tech Workers Is “a Lot”?

Many years ago, in response to a colleague saying a certain appropriation was “only” a billion dollars, Senator Everitt Dirksen famously replied, “A billion here, a billion there, it adds up!” Such common sense (not to mention such dry wit by a politician) is rare in this era in which the slick industry PR people prey on widespread innumeracy in the press and Congress.

Advocates for more liberal immigration policies like to dismiss concerns about the H-1B work visa program by pointing out that the yearly H-1B cap is minuscule compared to the total labor force of the U.S. Of course, a 10-year-old could see through that argument; the visa is usable only for certain kinds of jobs, so it is absurd to compare to the total labor force.

Tech companies like to make statements like, “Only 5% of our workers are H-1Bs.”  A 10-year-old might partly see through this one — again, a tech company has lots of NON-tech jobs, so the 5% is not a fair figure — but he/she would not see the subtleties, nor would most adults. There are various other visa types — O-1 is very common, and even Silicon Valley now uses L-1 a lot — and much more significantly, there are tons of former H-1Bs, now with green cards or naturalized citizenship. They are now Americans, at least in the latter case, but they are in the workforce due originally to the H-1B program.

Most H-1Bs, especially among the Indians, are software developers. According to the BLS, there are about a million people in the U.S. in that line of work. It’s somewhat higher than that, due to job title issues, so don’t treat it as an exact number, but take it as ballpark. Now compare that to a figure cited by Republican Representative Kevin Yoder, that 700,000 Indian nationals are currently waiting in line for employer-sponsored green cards. Again, take this as a rough figure, as some of them are not software developers, while some ARE software developers but without such a title, and so on.

My point, of course, is then that 700,000 is a large number when compared to that base of 1 million. Indeed, this jibes with various analyses finding that large fractions, if not most new software development jobs are going to foreign nationals. Anyone should find that alarming.

The industry spin on this is that the foreign workers are remedying a tech labor shortage, and the “alarming” thing is that this indicates severe problems with our educational system. But no numerical study, at least to my knowledge, has shown such a shortage, during all these years of such a claim by the industry. The big institutional ones, such as by the NRC and DOC back around 2000, failed to find a shortage, and more recent ones, e.g. by Daniel Costa and Hal Salzman, also find no shortage. Wages for software developers, including for new graduates, have been rising only slightly, clearly counterindicating shortage claims. (And if that is due only to H-1Bs filling in the shortage, so that we have “just enough,” why does the industry want more?)

And, as to the notion that employment in the tech area is only a small portion of the U.S. labor force, keep in mind that all sides agree that it is a CRUCIAL part, vital to the nation’s future.

So 700,000 seems like a huge number to me.

 

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26 thoughts on “How Many Foreign Tech Workers Is “a Lot”?

  1. This is spot on.

    The flooding effect is even worse because, of the 1 million developers, only a proportion are looking for a job at any time. Say perhaps 200,000 over the course of a year. So 700,000 additional candidates expands the supply by a whopping 350 percent, in rough figures.

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  2. > Tech companies like to make statements like, “Only 5% of our workers are H-1Bs.” A 10-year-old might partly see through this one — again, a tech company has lots of NON-tech jobs, so the 5% is not a fair figure — but he/she would not see the subtleties, nor would most adults. There are various other visa types — O-1 is very common, and even Silicon Valley now uses L-1 a lot — and much more significantly, there are tons of former H-1Bs, now with green cards or naturalized citizenship. They are now Americans, at least in the latter case, but they are in the workforce due originally to the H-1B program.

    Agreed. As can be seen at http://econdataus.com/stemsv14.htm , among software developers in Silicon Valley in 2014, about half were non-citizens, a quarter were naturalized citizens, and a quarter were citizens by birth. For California as a whole, the numbers were 35% non-citizen, 23% naturalized citizen, and 42% citizen by birth. The U.S. as a whole is less extreme still with 23% non-citizen, 15% naturalized citizen, and 62% citizen by birth. Still, even the 23% non-citizen figure for the entire U.S. is far above the 5% claim for H-1Bs. As you say, they are playing games with the numbers, including non-tech workers and excluding all of the other visas.

    I suspect that the claim of a tech-worker shortage is used as backup explanation for those people who can see with their own eyes that the percentage of tech workers who are foreign is far above 5 percent. Funny thing is that http://econdataus.com/stemgov13.htm shows that the numbers for software developers hired by the federal government in 2013 were just 2% non-citizen, 7% naturalized citizens, and 91 percent citizen by birth. For some strange reason, there seems to be very little shortage of tech-workers in the federal government!

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    • Regarding the point about the federal government: Some years ago, during the height of H-1B hoopla, it turned out that the City of Santa Clara had tons of applicants for its software jobs, in spite of paying WAY less than the industry.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Funny thing is, I just ran across a news story about Santa Clara tech jobs at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijYECVZg-wM . It’s dated 4-20-17, is titled “Six-Figure Government Jobs Go Unfilled In Silicon Valley” and has the description, “Santa Clara County Is hiring — or trying to. Kiet Do reports on the Silicon Valley tech jobs that no one seems eager to fill”. If you google the description, you’ll see numerous references to it. The newscaster introduces the story with the lead-in, “Santa Clara County is also hiring – or trying to – the starting salary – six figures – Kiet Do on the tech jobs that no one seems to want.”

        Being the naive person that I am, I immediately searched for Santa Clara County tech jobs online. Searching for “Santa Clara County jobs” leads to the page at https://www.sccgov.org/sites/esa/employment/Pages/eo.aspx and the link “Open-Competitive Opportunities” leads to https://www.governmentjobs.com/careers/santaclara . That lists 57 jobs and, if you select “Filter”, “Job Category”, and “IT and Computers”, you get the following 4 jobs:

        Chief Information Technology Operations Officer (COO)
        Executive Management – $207,648.75 – $258,500.05 annually
        Posted 1 week ago | Continuous

        Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
        Executive Management – $207,648.75 – $258,500.05 annually
        Posted 1 week ago | Continuous

        Epic Interface Analyst I
        Full-Time – $109,262.40 – $132,814.23 annually
        Posted 1 week ago | Closes in 11 hours

        Senior Business Information Technology Consultant
        Full-Time – $131,643.20 – $160,390.88 annually
        Posted 2 days ago | Closes in 3 weeks

        As can be seen, the non-executive jobs are left open for less than a month. I tried to look at https://web.archive.org/ to see what jobs were open on 4-20-17 but you get no history and trying to save the url gives the message: “Page cannot be displayed due to robots.txt”. How convenient! There’s no way to check how many jobs were supposedly open on 4-20-17. In any event, they’re not there now.

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  3. I think it is closer to 2 million software jobs out of 4 million that we have in America as of May 2016.

    Here is a reply that I sent in to the author of this article.


    http://www.breitbart.com/texas/2017/07/29/dhs-2-6-million-h-1b-foreign-workers-approved-to-enter-us-in-last-decade/

    Just in case you are not aware of it.
    65% of all visa applications are for computer and mathematical occupations.

    There are 4,165,140 computer and mathematical jobs in America as of the May 2016 statistics.

    https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes150000.htm

    That means that 1,690,000 of those 4,165,140 jobs have now seen Americans forced out and into the street.

    These statistics are now a year old, which will make it awful close to 50% of our best paying jobs that are achievable by those who come from everyday type people who are technically oriented are no longer available to those people.

    That is why I say that the H-1B and other non-immigrant guest worker programs are destroying the opportunity for everyday people in America to reach for the stars.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. >> why does the industry want more?

    We all know why! 🙂

    >> So 700,000 seems like a huge number to me.

    Quite the contrary – It perhaps is an underestimate number !!

    1) The the H-1 cap was about 200,000 from 99-2003 or thereabouts – https://qz.com/949589/the-h-1b-visa-cap-tells-you-very-little-about-how-many-h-1b-visas-there-are/ . And most of those are still waiting in the “queue” for permanent residency!

    2) Most importantly, each dependent is counted in the queue for greencard. Whereas, for H-1s, only the principal applicant is counted. In fact, that 700k number must be waaay underestimated. Assuming each Indian H-1 brings a Indian spouse, and if 350k “principal” applicants are sponsored for greencard (assuming 35k/year indians as principal applicants ), it makes it 350k x 2 = 700k literally waiting in the queue! If that applicant has foreign born kid(s), add them to the queue as well!

    >> most new software development jobs are going to foreign nationals
    That’s a politically correct way of portraying things (like cartel). It’s Indian nationals to be precise (and its a fact).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with you that when comparing approximately 700,000 to about 1,000,000, it is a major fraction. The implications of such a dominant proportion are ominous in my opinion.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. 3 things.

    1) The original quote was “a million here, a million there …. ,” and Dirksen denies ever saying it. Instead, he liked the sentiment and didn’t object when it was attributed to him.

    2) You can’t have a labor shortage for 25 years. If you do, you must acknowledge that your policies are ineffective and your analysis is ill-suited to ever solving the problem. If there is a problem. If your intention was always to import cheap dependent labor, then everything is working fine.

    3) Thanks for emphasizing the correct comparisons.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yeah, it takes balls to claim that there are “only 50,000” Visas issued a year or whatever. And then you can walk around my rust belt sh**hole of a city, with 1-2 major employers, and somehow there are 5,000 or 10,000 Indians, who have all come within the last 15 years? About half of the lower grades are now Indian. Chain migration, naturalization, green cards, anchor babies. Just 50,000? Please.

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  8. What is scary is that the Republican Representative Kevin Yoder, you mentioned, is sponsoring a bill to let 700K. The vast majority of these H1-Bs vote Democrat. They are all for big gov’t, free gov’t social programs and anything that the gov’t can dole out to them.

    It another reason why states like California are turning so deep Blue.

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  9. I doubt anyone knows the amount of unused H-1B time (out of the 6 year maximum without pending green card). SInce there is no requirement that the person receiving work authorization appear for work on the date applied for in the petition, many work years are “banked” for future use. Many workers flit between H-1B and other statuses (H4, F-1, and B-2 are the most often mentioned) depending on whether work is available.

    I looked at LCAs today that had to have been submitted for April 1 yet the start date for work was in August of the next year.

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    • Interesting comment, Cathy. As an H1B myself, I had no idea it was possible to jump between visa statuses. I guess I don’t know the ins and outs of the system as well as Tata (etc). I actually had to confer with our lawyers to see if I could get time off to finish my PhD dissertation. (The answer was no, by the way). 🙂

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  10. In the recent stories about the “IT guys” for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC, and several Democratic Congresspeople, no mention is made of how these several Pakistanis managed to get these jobs. At least one has held the job (and got jobs for his relatives) for 13 years. Did he come on an H1-B? Did his brothers? And just why are DEMOCRATS hiring foreigners for high security positions?

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    • The fact that the DNC applied for them to obtain security clearances is mind boggling. If you dig into the details, the Awans were certainly running a lot of shenanigans both professionally and inside the family. Given that they reportedly had terrible customer service and many days out of the country, it is rather odd to see the degree of loyalty and praise from members of Congress.

      PS: Ask anyone who works for an insurance company what the rates of insurance fraud are like from South Asians. At Worksafe BC (mandatory worker’s compensation for the entire province) and ICBC (mandatory auto insurance for the entire province) we had black ops teams with Urdu, Hindi, Tamil (etc) speakers that had to deal with the massive rates of fraud from those communities. It was orders of magnitude higher.

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  11. “Only 5% of our workers are H-1Bs.”
    Exactly who are they claiming as their “workers”?
    I’ve been watching Silicon Valley go ambiguous for quite a while now.
    “Jobs” – 92K claims Apple, includes any/all who work directly for them, the offshored, contracted, and app writers who sell in their app store.

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  12. “According to the BLS, there are about a million people in the U.S. in that line of work.”
    – For 2016 alone, OFLC approved 800K H1B visas – some new, some 1 year renewals, some 3 year renewals. It’d take quite a bit of work to discern exactly what percentage where tech jobs, given the ambiguity of job titles. In any case, between the high number of tech H1Bs, and the low number of BLS numbers, I’ve a great deal of reservation about accepting BLS’ numbers at face value for this reason, and also for …
    – I’ve yet to see clean up of materials regarding “jobs” (full time permanent? contractor? part time? citizen/legal permanent? foreign legal/illegal?).

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  13. At Progressives For Immigration Reform we have developed a highly functional H1-B Visa database that allows the user to search by city, zip and/or congressional district and learn the details on the H1-B Visa holders in those jurisdictions. Users can get very detailed information regarding position title, salary, employer, employer location, client and much more. Or, the user can pull summary reports that give things like aggregate salary and skill level information. Check it out at: http://progressivesforimmigrationreform.org/immigration-topics/h1b-database-app/

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