The Unintended Consequences of H1B Visa Cutbacks

As someone who has lived in Silicon Valley all of his life and worked in the tech sector for 35 years, I have come to appreciate the role H1B Visas have had on the growth of tech, here and around the US. In fact, some of my very good friends came out of top US universities and, thanks to this special Visa program, were allowed to stay and work in the US and contribute to our tech economy.

President Trump has said he will study the H1B Visa program and how it impacts both the US and his immigration goals but it does appear he is on track to do something to this program that could have an impact on how many of these Visas will be allowed. Any decrease would impact our tech companies — about 70% of these visas are used by them.

Given the confusion on this at the moment, other countries are seizing the opportunity to lure potential H1B Visa recipients to their countries to bolster their tech scene and be more competitive with the US. France, China, and Canada have been the most outspoken on this subject but I am hearing from my friends in the UK, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and Germany a similar program and invites for US-bound immigrants is in the works in those countries too.

I recently saw this note from DesiOpt, a site that connects students to employers. It highlights France and China’s objective to invite any US-bound students who would be affected by a lack of H1B Visas to their countries instead:

• Axelle Lemaire, France’s Minister of State for Digital Affairs, said earlier this month that the new program goes further than an earlier program known as the French Tech Ticket. “If you’re a foreigner coming from the rest of the world, you can apply and you might get fast-track processing. Your family is also eligible, and there’s no quota as far as I know,” he said, TechCrunch reports.

• As the U.S. looks to revamp and possibly curb the H-1B program that invites foreign tech talent to work in America, France is taking an opposite tact, opening up its visa program in hopes it might attract some top tech workers to that country. And France is not alone. Last month, tech companies based in China said they are hoping President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed crackdown on immigration and hiring of non-American tech workers will mean they can attract and retain more tech talent for themselves.

• Though it’s not clear yet if or how the president-elect will revise the H-1B program, it’s clear there will need to be a delicate balance between preventing Americans from being replaced by foreign workers and shutting the doors to foreign talent that could help America stay competitive when it comes to tech innovation.

• The H-1B visa program brings 85,000 foreign skilled workers into the U.S. each year. A large portion of those employees work in the tech industry.

I suspect this is the tip of the iceberg of some unintended consequences if Trump goes through with any serious curbs on this visa program. Many of these countries have wanted to siphon tech talent away from the US and have been trying to find ways to do this for a long time. Any reduction of these H1B Visas gives them more incentives to recruit skilled workers to their countries and bolster there own tech programs.

This is not bad in a broad sense since innovation can come from anywhere in the world where the right type of people and skilled workers have an environment that fosters opportunity and growth. But the US has been a beacon for providing the type of working conditions that attract students from the best colleges in the US and allows them to stay in the US to work and contribute to tech and our overall economy.

This is why tech execs are going out of their way to school President Trump on the value of H1B Visas with the hopes that whatever he does to this program favors their position. Whether this will be successful or not is the big question. But, if they can’t get through to the president and he severely limits the amount of H1B Visas available each year, many other countries are ready to take these students in and have them help grow their tech programs at our expense.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

One thought on “The Unintended Consequences of H1B Visa Cutbacks”

  1. To further support your point….

    Currently, and for the past 25 years, if you’re a particle physicist the US is NOT where it’s at. These “business decisions” have essentially ceded all the leading edge to CERN.

    In this instance, not only are we keeping brains out, we are ejecting our own.
    Outcome? US brain drain. How many other similar examples might there be?

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