The controversial H-1B work visa used heavily by Silicon Valley tech firms to acquire talent is much more widely used by companies based in New York and Texas, according to new research.
From 2010 to 2016, almost a third of the visas, which are intended for workers in jobs requiring specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher, went to businesses in the New York City area, the Pew Research Center reported Thursday.
Dallas and Washington, D.C. ranked second and third in numbers of approved H-1B visas, Pew said, basing its findings on government data on 68 metro areas obtained via a public records request. New York City-area companies obtained 247,900 H-1B visas, Dallas region firms received 74,000, and metropolitan D.C. had 64,800.
Trailing behind with the 10th-highest number of H-1B visas approved was the metropolitan area of San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale with 22,200. The San Francisco region, which includes Oakland and Hayward, received 11,300 and ranked 13th.
“Demand for the high-skilled worker visas has boomed in recent years, and the H-1B program is now the primary way employers in the U.S. hire high-skilled foreign workers,” Pew said.
The data Pew used were not broken down by occupation or industry, making it impossible to draw conclusions specific to the technology industry or its use of H-1Bs in the Bay Area, said Neil Ruiz, associate director for migration research at Pew.
The report simply shows that “there are a lot of other places within the United States that have a demand for high-skilled H-1B foreign workers,” Ruiz said.
The H-1B visa has become a flashpoint in the U.S. immigration debate. Major tech companies have been among the loudest voices calling for an increase in the number of such visas. But critics argue that some firms use the program to get cheap foreign labor and replace American workers. UC San Francisco in 2016 allegedly used the program to replace Americans with outsourced workers.
“The tech sector is not using these visas to pay low wages — they’re using them for a very specialized skill set,” said Michael Hayes, senior manager of government affairs for the Consumer Technology Association, which counts Apple, Facebook and Google as members.