H-1B at 20: How the 'tech worker visa' is remaking IT

By , Computerworld |  Career, Careers, h-1b

"I don't think you've heard me make outsourcing a bogeyman during the course of my visit," said Obama in India, adding that the two countries "are operating on some stereotypes that have outlived their usefulness."

The U.S. wants to expand its trade with India, selling products like aircraft, power-generation technology, and consumer goods into its vast market. The Indians want access to the U.S. IT market. And for that, they need visas.

The rise of the OPT extension

In the years leading up to the recession in 2008, demand for H-1B visas exceeded the annual supply of 85,000, some years by 60,000 or more.

The Bush administration, unable to persuade Congress to increase the visa cap, developed an alternative strategy: It extended the amount of time a foreign student with a science, technology, engineering or math degree can work for a private employer without a work visa, from 12 to 29 months. Critics called it an H-1B extension by other means.

Since that White House action in mid-2008, nearly 20,000 students have applied for what is called the Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension. Given that demand for H-1B visas has been sluggish for the past two years, and that H-1B visa fees were increased this year, critics wonder whether foreign workers are using OPT extensions rather than H-1B visas to remain in the U.S.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency keeps track of every OPT request and the hiring company but typically doesn't distribute the information. It produced the list in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by an anonymous source, who subsequently made the list available to Computerworld. The list was verified by ICE.

The data shows which institutions are using the OPT extension and in what ways. [For more detail, see Non-visa foreign student work applications filed since mid-2008 for a searchable, sortable database of Optional Practical Training extension requests filed by U.S. employers.]

Foreign students, particularly from top-tier universities, are being employed at large firms. At Carnegie Mellon University, for instance, Intel has six OPT extension students working for it; Oracle has eight students.


Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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