The number of applications for the controversial H-1B work visa heavily relied on by Silicon Valley technology companies has fallen for the second year in a row, just-released data from the federal government shows.
This year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received 190,098 H-1B applications from companies seeking to hire foreign workers for U.S. jobs, the agency tweeted Thursday.
Last year marked the first time since 2013 that the number of applications dropped, with 199,000 coming in, compared to 236,000 the year before.
Citizenship and Immigration uses a random computer program to award the congressionally mandated 85,000 H-1B visas in a process often referred to as a lottery. The visa is intended to be used for jobs requiring specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The work permit has become a flashpoint in the immigration debate. Critics point to highly publicized reports of abuse — workers at UC San Francisco and Disney allegedly forced to train foreign IT replacements, for example — and say U.S. companies use the visa to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor.
The tech industry strongly supports the visa, arguing that it enables companies to hire talent not available domestically, and pushes for increases in the number issued.
An extremely high value is placed on the H-1B visa in Silicon Valley, where census data indicates that 71 percent of tech employees are foreign born. About half of tech workers in the East Bay are originally from other countries, the data suggest.
The vast majority of H-1B applications are for workers from India, with about 302,000 coming in last year, federal government data shows. The next-most represented country is China, with about 41,000 applications made last year, according to the data.
In third place and far behind in 2017 was Canada, with about 4,000 applications made to bring in workers from north of the U.S. border. Each year from 2010 to 2017, by far the most applications have been made for workers from India, with China coming second, according to the government data.
During that 10-year period, applications for visas for computing jobs have greatly outstripped applications for any other type of job. The federal government received more than 2 million visa applications for computing positions, compared to 323,000 applications for visas for architecture, engineering and surveying jobs, the category in which the next-highest number of applications came in, according to the data.
Many H-1B visas go to outsourcing companies that flood Citizenship and Immigration with applications. The administration of President Donald Trump in February announced stricter requirements for employers, with Citizenship and Immigration saying in a policy memo that it would require “detailed documentation” about H-1B workers employed at third-party work sites to ensure employees are filling the specialty roles for which they were hired.
In August, Citizenship and Immigration released data showing that about 70 percent of H-1B visas for 2016 were awarded for natives of India. U.S. outsourcing firm Cognizant received the most H-1B visas that year, with 21,459, according to the data. Indian outsourcing firms Infosys, Tata and Wipro, plus Irish professional-services firm Accenture, together received 37,725.
Amazon, Google and Apple took a combined 7,248.
Those three firms paid their H-1B workers substantially more than the $91,000 average, with Apple paying an average of $139,000, Google an average of $132,000 and Amazon an average of $115,000, according to the federal government data.
The major outsourcers paid considerably less than the average, with Infosys and Cognizant paying $84,000, Wipro paying $74,000 and Tata paying $72,000, according to the data.