H-1B high-tech worker job displacement

by Fred Elbel

The H-1B visa was designed to bring in temporary foreign job seekers in order to fill labor shortages in the United States. Over the years, it has become one of the most harmful visa programs, resulting in permanent displacement of American workers from the high-tech labor force. Educated and competent US STEM workers (in science, technology, engineering and mathematics) can not compete with foreign workers who are often brought in by industry to work at a fraction of the wages of American workers. 

H-1B visa background

The original cap on H-1B visas was set at 65,000 per year in 1990.  Then in October, 2000, Congress increased the cap to 195,000 per year. On October 1, 2003, the number of H-1B visas was reduced back to the original level of 65.000. Still, an additional 20,000 per year are allowed in for H-1B workers with Master's and higher degrees from US institutions. It should also be noted that non-profit employers and governmental agencies are not restricted by these caps.

The H-1B visa program allows employment for up to six years, so the number of H-1B foreign workers in the U.S. at any point is the sum of the number of foreign workers who have been admitted and remained over the last six years. In 2002, there were an estimated 710,000 H-1B foreign workers in the U.S.10 Currently, there are more than 450,000 H-1B foreign workers in the US who continue to displace American STEM workers.

Currently, more than 100,000 US programmers and tech workers are unemployed, and many more are underemployed or have been forced out of their career. The total number of displaced American workers is close to half a million.

Today, 80 percent of the top ten companies using H-1B visas are Indian outsourcing companies who maintain their H-1B workers outside of the US. Thus, H-1B job displacement is intrinsically coupled with high-tech job offshoring.

Consequences of the H-1B program on American tech workers

The US produces enough STEM graduates to meet industry demands for high-tech workers. Yet many highly qualified STEM students realize the potential for H-1B offshoring and turn away from high-tech careers.2 Indeed, the Department of Labor's 2006 Strategic Plan stated that "H-1B workers may be hired even when a qualified U.S. worker wants the job, and a U.S. worker can be displaced from the job in favor of the foreign worker." 

While the H-1B program requires foreign workers to be paid prevailing wages, in practice that does not occur. The H-1B program currently functions to provide US employers with cheap foreign labor, rather than to fill temporary vacancies.3

Industry's big lie

The "big lie" is a formal debating tactic where if lie is repeated often enough, it is taken as fact. This is the case with the claims of big business that there is a shortage of high-tech workers and that foreign H-1B workers are needed in the U.S. There is essentially no data supporting such a claim.4 A RAND study concluded that 'One primary question this study sought to answer is, are there current or imminent shortages in the U.S. STEM workforce This question can be answered, "No," with a degree of confidence for workers with a graduate education.'5

Yet industry has found that blatantly repeating the big lie about high-tech worker shortages gains traction with Congress, who willingly allow them to use cheap, foreign, H-1B workers at the expense of American tech workers.


1. NumbersUSA background on H-1B visa job displacement.

2. Lowell, B. Lindsay, Harold Salzman, Hamutal Bernstein, and Everett Henderson. "Steady as She Goes? Three Generations of Students through the Science and Engineering Pipeline". Rutgers University, 2009. Print. Pg. 31.

3. Low Salaries for Low Skills: Wages and Skill Levels for H-1B Computer Workers, 2005, Center for Immigration Studies.

4. The Big Lie behind H-1B visas, Center for Immigration Studies, 2009.

5. Will the Scientific and Technology Workforce Meet the Requirements of the Federal Government?

6. Prof. Matloff Busts 'Best and Brightest' Ballyhoo for H-1B Workers, Center for Immigration Studies, 2011.

7. Nonimmigrant Visas: H-1B/L-1, Programmers Guild.

8. 2013 Programmers Guild Reforms: Guest Worker Visas and Green Cards, Programmers Guild fact sheet.

9. Media and Congressional Fact Sheets, Programmers Guild.

10. H-1B Visas: Harming American Workers, FAIR, 2008.

11. Facebook, H-1B and Age, by Norm Matloff, Upon Closer Inspection, September 30, 2013.

12. Blog: Upon Closer Inspection, by Norm Matloff.

13. The Worst H-1B Employers, According to the Labor Department, Center for Immigration Studies, January, 2015.

14. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services guidelines help foreigners apply for H-1B jobs displacing American workers.

15.  Primer for Reporters Looking Into the H-1B Program, by John Miano, Center for Immigration Studies, June 25, 2015.


Related websites

Hire Americans First

Programmers Guild