U.S. tech firms increasingly sponsoring green cards to retain H-1B workers

American tech firms are increasingly sponsoring green cards, or permanent U.S. residency, for their employees from India and elsewhere in a bid to hold on to their skilled talent pool at a time when H1-B work visa extensions have become unpredictable.

According to an Economic Times report quoting the U.S. Labor department data, eight out of the top 10 companies that applied for green cards for their employees in fiscal 2019 were U.S. firms.

Amazon, which also received the second highest number of H-1B work visas in FY19, filed 3,247 permanent residency applications, followed by Cognizant and Google with 2,927 and 2,425 applications, respectively, the Nov. 13 report said.

“Cognizant has consistently been an industry leader in sponsoring many of our employees in securing legal permanent residence in the U.S. because they are highly-skilled, highly-educated knowledge professionals who are valuable assets to our company and clients,” a company spokesperson was quoted as saying.

The report said quoting Labor Department data, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which processes these applications, received 113,014 applications for permanent labor certification program during 2018-19 (October-September), 8.3% more than in FY18.

Of the total, 53.2% were for Indian citizens, followed by Chinese residents at 11.2%. Majority of the applicants were H-1B and L1 work visa holders – 68.2% and 7.2%, respectively.

The problems with work visa renewals have forced many Indian IT workers in the U.S. to return to India in recent months, earlier news reports said, while most people are still struggling to have their visas extended.

According to a recent analysis by National Foundation for American Policy, a nonprofit that studies immigration, the denial rate for applicants trying to extend their visas grew from 4 percent in 2016 to 12 percent in 2018 and the rate climbed even higher, to 18 percent, through the first quarter of 2019.

When it comes to new employment, the USCIS has more than doubled the share of petitions it rejects, from 10 percent in 2016 to 24 percent in 2018, it said. According to NFAP, the denial rate in the first quarter of 2019 was 32 percent despite a steady decrease in the total number of new applications under President Trump.

It is apparently due to this uncertainty about H-1B renewal that American companies are sponsoring their foreign-born employees for permanent residency.

The Times report said others in the top ten companies that applied for permanent residency for the employees included Intel, Facebook, Microsoft, Cisco and Deloitte — besides Indian firms like Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys at number five and seven, respectively – all with more than 1,000 applications each.

The development indicates that companies are willing to go the extra mile to hold on to skilled talent by sponsoring their residency applications because authorities have been increasingly denying applications for work visa extensions on various grounds.

"Given the strong representation of foreign-born students in top engineering and business schools across the U.S., leading technology companies increasingly rely on these types of students to fill their new hiring pipelines,” the report quoted Rogelio Caceres, cofounder of global investment firm LCR Capital Partners as saying.

According to the 2019 Open Doors Report on international students in the U.S., 51.6 percent of international students pursued STEM fields in 2018/19 and the number of international students in Math and Computer Science programs grew by 9.4 percent, surpassing Business and Management to become the second-largest field of study for international students.

India sent more than 200,000 students to the U.S. in 2018-19 academic year, registering a +2.9 percent growth over the previous year.

Caceres said, “Unfortunately, given tech companies' significant talent needs, the H-1B employer-sponsored visa program is no longer viewed as a reliable source, given how unpredictable and uncertain the approval process has become.”

In 2018 five Indian IT services companies together accounted for two-thirds, or 8,742, of the 13,177 H-1B extension petitions rejected from 30 technology companies, according to news reports quoting USCIS data.

Most foreign workers in the U.S. on an H-1B visa gets it for a period of three years, which can be extended by another three. While most apply for permanent resident status within this period, it can take up to a decade or even longer for this to come through, especially for Indians.

According to official data, 58.2% of green card applicants work in computer or math-related jobs, with 24.3% of the work sites being in California, where most of the top tech companies are based.

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