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Silicon Valley Engineers Stuck in Immigration Reform Limbo

A deadlocked Congress defers the 'American Dream' for employees with H-1B visas.

This is part of a series on immigration that is running across 12 Patch sites.

Originally from India, Sanjay Patel worked as a product manager for eBay in San Jose for three years after the company sponsored his H-1B visa. 

Patel—his name has been changed in this story to protect his identity—would like to remain in the United States, and his desire to obtain a permanent residency card, or a green card, weighs heavily on his mind.

“The six-year limit bothers many people,” Patel said, about the minimum period it takes to get a green card. “If you are trying to get your green card, then six years is a limited amount of time.”

Many U.S.-based companies have turned to foreign countries to supply them with employees, like Patel, who possess the specialized skills needed for technology jobs.

Often these professionals arrive with limited work visas and create new homes here for themselves and their families. But if they don’t get their permanent resident cards within the six years their H-1B visas are valid, they usually have to uproot themselves and return home. 

The emotional toll can be overwhelming, and the stalled immigration reform debate in Congress doesn’t help matters.

“It’s been difficult for them to listen to the debate when they are helping develop products, helping U.S. competitiveness, and then they hear Americans attack foreigners,” said Cynthia Lange, attorney and managing partner for the Santa Clara office of the global international immigration law firm, Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen and Loewy, LLP.

“Up until now, Congress has been deadlocked on doing anything with immigration. It has stopped movement on other changes that would help people.”

Immigration reform has a unique effect upon the Silicon Valley. It’s home to Fortune 500 technology companies that hire people from all over the world, lured with the H1-B visa, issued to professional workers who have the appropriate degrees or a combination of education and experience.  

When their visas expire, however, more often than not these professionals have only 30 days to get out of the country, according to Gali Gordon, an immigration attorney in San Francisco.

Patel said his visa had been extended for another three years, and he has already started to work with one of the company’s lawyers to try to get his green card. But, explained Lange, because of the U.S. quota to approve for permanent residency 5 percent of the applicants from every country in the world—for engineers from highly represented countries like India and China—the wait then becomes longer.

His job with eBay appears to be working out, and Patel—who received his master’s degree from Arizona State University in 2005—said he believes he’ll be able to renew his H-1B visa every year until he receives his green card. His wife, who accompanied him to the United States on the H4 visa issued to immediate family members of H-1B visa holders, would also have her visa renewed.

According to Lange, the cost to apply for visas continue to increase, though the employers, not the employees, pay for them. Still, the cost could preclude smaller companies from recruiting and applying for visas for their workers, she explained.

Patel acknowledged that he was one of the fortunate ones.

Before the approval of the “American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act” in October 2000, upon the expiration of an H-1B, visa-holders would have had to “yank their families and kids out of school and had to leave,” said Lange.

Now Patel’s wife has a chance to remain, too.

“Her H4 visa will be extended when mine is, and she will receive her green card when I do,” Patel said.

According Gordon, if a person’s green-card process has been pending for at least one year, the H-1B visa can be extended past the six-year mark. This would apply to the spouse’s H4, too, which has more restrictions than an H-1B visa and does not allow people to work. Patel’s wife, however, can attend school, and she has decided to pursue her master’s degree at San Jose State University.

But ever since the economic boom turned to bust in the U.S., the number of immigrants getting H-1B visas, their renewals or a green card has dropped.

According to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) H-1B Program Report figures, in fiscal year 2007 there were petitions 304,877 H-1B filed and 281,444 approved. In 2008, the number filed decreased to 288,764 as did the number approved to 276,252. The prospects for H-1B petitioners looked even glimmer in 2009, when filings dropped 15 percent to 246,647 and approvals fell 22 percent to 214,271 compared to 2008.

Of those approvals, the number of H1-Bs approved for continuing employment, that is, renewals, in 2009 was 127,971—a sharp decreased of 23 percent from 2008 when the number approved was 166,917. Renewal approvals had actually increased slightly from 2007 to 2008 by 3.3 percent.

Approximately 48 percent of H-1Bs approved in 2009 were for workers born in India, according to the USCIS. H-1B figures are not yet available for 2010.

For the government’s fiscal year that started April 1, 2010, it took 10 months to reach the 65,000 H-1Bs for initial filers mandated by Congress. In contrast in 2008, when companies were still hiring foreign professionals, that cap was reached within days, according to Compete America, a coalition that advocates for reform of U.S. immigration policy.

For 2012 fiscal year, which began on April 1, U.S. companies will file H-1B visa applications until the cap is reached, Gordon explained. Then H-1B visas go into effect on Oct. 1, 2011 at which point the employee can start work under the visa, she continued.

Also even though only 65,000 H-1B visas are available each year, multiple companies can file on behalf of a new foreign worker. Renewals do not count towards the government cap.

In recent years, Mountain View-based Google has recruited fewer H-1B eligible employees than in years past, according to Google spokesman Dan Martin.

In 2007, Google filed 641 H-1B visa applications, with 583 approved. In 2008, 424 were filed, with 334 approved; and in 2009, only 183 H-1B visas were filed, and all were approved, according to Martin.

Both eBay and Mountain View-based Symantec declined to release the number of foreign workers on H-1B visas at their companies. An eBay spokesperson said the number of visa holders “aren’t statistics that we track” and that “for privacy reasons, this isn’t a topic we can discuss.”

However, the USCIS did provide figures of approved petitions in 2009 that show eBay received 24 and Symantec 57 H-1B visas for employees. The largest number of H1-Bs went to Intel–723–followed by Cisco at 308 and Oracle 272.

Meanwhile, until Congress changes the immigration laws, companies can only give employees a month to find work or obtain another visa, once it’s expired.

Patel said that if he’s unable to get his green card in time, he won’t stay in the U.S. illegally, because he wouldn’t want to risk getting caught. In India, he could earn the same pay, and both he and his wife would be able to work successfully, he said.

“It’s a limited amount of time,” he said, “and in that situation, if I don’t get another job, then I pack my bags.”

This article was produced through a collaboration of PatchU and the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at San Jose State University. PatchU is a Patch Media initiative to build strong relationships with colleges and universities across the country. The mission of PatchU is to connect students and faculty to opportunities at Patch.  

For more information, email PatchU@patch.com or follow us on Facebook.

jobs4us May 06, 2011 at 06:36 AM
How can we fix the problem... Simple. One signature, zero taxpayer dollars. Change the law (stupid)... End loopholes in temporary H-1b guest worker visa law that allow companies to replace qualified Americans with temporary guest workers, force us to train our replacements, and as a result we lose our jobs, homes, medical insurance, life savings, and much more. Fax your Congress members, remind them they represent their electorate, not greedy corporations trying to use H-1b for labor arbitrage to lower the cost of labor American tech workers have a voice - We must do more than blog to be heard to reclaim America's American Dream. We can make a difference and end corporate visa fraud and abuse. Together we can make a difference and a voice - make sure yours is heard.... loud, clear, and united. Get the facts www.brightfuturejobs.com
jobs4us May 06, 2011 at 06:57 AM
Claudia, please cover the real facts behind H-1b visas, GAO audits of rampant fraud and abuse, Wikileaks cables from US embassy in India showing 77% fraud in H-1b applications - and how this fraud and abuse continues - and how these fraud ridden laws have resulted in millions of Americans losing our jobs, homes, healthcare, and life savings. Sadly these are the facts. Also please expose the shocking abuse of another visa - B1/B2 - fact. Employers are increasing their illegal use of B-1 visas and committing felony offenses, by illegally importing (trafficking) foreign workers on B1 (intended for non-paying business use like attending conferences). And, its not limited to Infosys and Wipro. Boatloads of American companies, IBM, Chase. Recent B-1 job ads hidden from US jobseekers for Fidelity National (FIS) shows they are on a B-1 hiring spree, offering India's walk-ins US salaries of less than $20k/year. Please distinguish yourself as a journalist - get the facts here (www.brightfuturejobs.com) and expose the truth to America. To date, media coverage outside of Dan Rather is non-existent.
P Henry May 06, 2011 at 12:25 PM
@Jim Crow AAAHHH. There it is. When you have no argument, fall back on the race card. Of course, you completely ignore the fact that Black and Hispanic Americans are more negatively affected by this cheap labor visa than White Americans but that's probably because it would defeat your already weak argument. Speaking for myself, I don't have a problem with granting green cards to so-called "skilled workers". I would love it if they would get rid of the H-1B program altogether and issue green cards instead. However, these scumbag corporations are completely against that idea. Ask them. They know that would destroy the benefit of cheaper indentured servitude that the h-1b offers.
M1998 May 06, 2011 at 01:46 PM
You didn't mention the L-1 visa; which supplies an unlimited # of replacement workers for corporations.
Donna Conroy May 06, 2011 at 01:48 PM
This is a shockingly one-sided article; an outstanding example of multiple errors of omission that many readers have mentioned. I only hope that Jen Nowell and Claudia Cruz will be able to re-visit this issue. Corporate visa programs, providing the assurance of segregated recruiting and hiring, has destroyed our nation's promise—that we would make a better life by working hard and playing by the rules. Companies are so brazen they post "H1-b only", "OPT only" and "B1 only" want ads all over the internet for their US job openings! This assurance of segregated recruiting has attracted and created US businesses that are human trafficking unemployed Indian tech workers to US corporations and companies who's sole purpose is to move our jobs of the future abroad. We now have an overabundance of experienced, highly-skilled IT professionals and new sci & tech grads, whom we've paid dearly to educate. Silicon Valley now has fewer White, Black, Hispanic and Female IT professionals than in 2000. Black Computer Science graduates essentially reached parity in 2006. Nowell and Cruz stretch credulity when they blame our children for legal discrimination. American 4th and 8th graders outperform their German counterparts in the latest round of TIMSS, the prestigious math and science international test. India and China , the two countries where tech companies recruit most from, don’t participate in TIMSS. Donna Conroy, Director www.brightfuturejobs.com
Rudy Torrent May 06, 2011 at 03:19 PM
Cruz is clearly a shill for sponsors in the high-tech junta who are involved in the H-1B slave trade. I can count on one hand the number of Hispanics I have encountered in 20 years of IT work, and trust me, Indians scabs are no friends of blacks, Hispanics, or women. They bring us their culture of misogyny, bigotry, and nepotism along with their fake resumes and scammed visas. Cruz should be ashamed of herself for prostituting her journalistic ethics in order to satisfy her pimps at Google (who refuses to release their workplace diversity figures because it would be revealed that they count Indian H-1Bs are minorities). As for Americans being denigrated, displaced, and discriminated against by the guest worker regime, the horror stories are rampant. Pfizer, PWC in Florida (http://tinyurl.com/23o5scg), Nielson (http://tinyurl.com/dgf2d8), and B of A (http://tinyurl.com/3b4or8d) are just a few of the companies that have a notorious history of blackmailing American workers into training their scabs. Get a clue Cruz, and stop shilling.
Mark May 06, 2011 at 05:39 PM
My Indian H1b manager reduced my salary and gave me the option to leave with a severance or take a reduced salary. These Indians do not have specialized skills that we Americans cannot do. They take our jobs and they hire only other Indians. This piece is pure propaganda for corporations (Tech companies as well as huge banks).
Mark May 06, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Claudia, you are completely wrong in your assertion that corporations have to look for qualified US candidates first. There is no stipulation to look for qualified US candidates: None at all. What you say is a total myth. In fact, H1b's are often trained by US workers who are then layed off. Please take a look at this article for clarification: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_15/b4126063331942.htm from the article: What myths distort the H-1B debate? The biggest may be that employers can hire H-1B visa holders only when there is no American for the job. The program, run by the U.S. Labor and Homeland Security Dept., has no such constraint. Nor do employers getting the visas have to demonstrate a shortage of U.S. workers in their field. Indeed, they can opt not to recruit American candidates and to give preference to foreign workers. As the Labor Dept. states in its 2006-2011 Strategic Plan: "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." This is not just a hypothetical possibility. According to news reports, a number of major U.S. companies require American employees, as a condition of their severance pay, to train H-1B workers to do the work they do. This process, often called "knowledge transfer," is a key step in offshoring the tasks to a low-cost country.
Raintait May 06, 2011 at 05:47 PM
Americans need to stand up and push the H1-B visa holders out of their country. This would not be tolerated in any other country in the world. Hold those big corporations accountable as well. If it is unsafe for these workers to be here or for companies to hire them then they will stop immediately.
Claudia Cruz (Editor) May 06, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Please do not use language that incites violence on this comment thread. It violates the terms you agreed to when you logged in. I've deleted one and will delete more if necessary. Thank you.
Mark May 06, 2011 at 06:34 PM
The solution is simple: Eliminate the H-1b visa and send these guest workers home and stop pretending their is a shortage when there isn't one. When US citizens are not able to get these same jobs despite being better qualified then most of these guest workers, then something else is going on. It points very clearly to the perfidy of these tech corporations, big banks, and the collusion of our own government.
Donna Conroy May 06, 2011 at 06:48 PM
Claudia, I find it appalling that you choose to respond to this comment, while you remain silent on credible comments chuck-full of facts. Everybody gets a few things wrong in life; individuals with strong characters are able to gain respect, despite their errors, by admitting them and making amends. The circumstances of wide-spread employment discrimination against US citizens and green card holders, combined with the trafficking of unemployed Indian tech workers and the outsourcing of our future jobs, cries out to all to high road. It will be difficult to admit your mistakes, but you will be forever proud that you stood up for your journalistic standards, and for your country, in this long-ignored human tragedy occurring right under our noses.
Bob Johnson May 06, 2011 at 07:15 PM
Dear Ms. Cruz ( and others unfamilar with to goings on the the American job market): Please do some research on the American Job Destruction issue. GOOGLE: Kevin Flanagan suicide GOOGLE: Michael Emmons Siemens GOOGLE: Sona Shah visa GOOGLE: Norman Matloff h-1b See what turns up !
Juan Rojo May 06, 2011 at 07:47 PM
@Claudia Cruz " From my understanding, no U.S. worker has lost an engineering job to someone from abroad." So basically you know how to read PR releases. Excellent. Instead of going over the same ground as everyone else, here, read this by Immigration researcher Ron Hira: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_15/b4126063331942.htm -Drunken Economist http://mindtaker.blogspot.com/ http://twitter.com/drunk_economist
Doc Savage May 06, 2011 at 08:07 PM
@Jim Crow - You are totally out of line buddy, you have no clue what the Ethnic background of any of the people responding to this article and yet you "PULL THE RACE CARD". For your information I personally don't adhere to the CONCEPT of RACE among human beings, however I do recognize the differing ethnic, class, political and social groups as defined by Anthropologists. And at this point I recognize that this issue is entirely socio-economic and only weak minded fools trying to support a even weaker cause would choose to use the rhetoric that you have. My personal friends, family and social group is made up of people from all ethnic, social and economic backgrounds and they all take the position that use of H-1B workers in America during a time of serious economic downturn is morally wrong. Displacement of citizen and legal resident workers for the purpose of increasing corporate profits is immoral. I also find offense at your use of the Nom De Plume Jim Crow, hoping in someway to incite some ethnocentric or racist diatribe on the part of the commenting populace
Doc Savage May 06, 2011 at 08:24 PM
@Claudia - I am not attacking you however I am questioning your motivation for being somewhat one-sided in this presentation. Is this an opinion piece or a news story? Yes Mr. Patel's situation, from his point of view, is quite disheartening. However, the fact that he has completed his legal term here and the guidelines of the H-1B do indicate that he must return to his country of origin, is hardly sob-story for the rest of us. He was one of the lucky few who had a shot at experiencing the American Dream, if he likes it he can follow the law, as we all have to, and return to India and petition for permanent residence in the United States, at which point I would be happy to drive to the airport and drive him back to San Jose. As I have with several of my friends from India. In the mean time I have 6 other friends from Pakistan, India, China and Russia that are in similar situations and have made arrangements to return to their countries of origin in order to comply with the law. Some are choosing to not return here because they are going to take their experience and start companies in their own countries. I also have over 20 citizen friends who are working at jobs that the are completely over trained for or have nothing to do with their discipline and would be happy to take a job with eBay doing what Mr. Patel does.
Claudia Cruz (Editor) May 06, 2011 at 08:35 PM
Where do you find any indication of my opinion or motivation in the article? Also, Patel has only been here 3 of the 6 years and does not have to leave yet. He has however, begun his paperwork to get his green card. If his visa is not renewed at the end of the six years and if his H-1B is not renewed, he said he would return, because he can make equal money in India. I don't understand, are we reading the same article?
Wakjob Dunfor May 06, 2011 at 09:39 PM
I even had one QA manager from China at a job one time take me into a conference call with a new "trainee" from India and the manager looked me right in the eye and said "Our goal is to EXTRACT your knowledge". Now industrial spies or economic takeover going on there.
jake_leone May 06, 2011 at 10:02 PM
Claudia, Does equal money mean the exact same number of US $ or does it mean equal return value. Engineers/Managers in India don't even make a US living wage (in terms of US $). In terms of Rupees, yeah India managers/engineers do well in India. But there's a big trade-off in terms of infrastructure and import power of your money. Oil, for example, is hideously expensive for Indian workers. He might be able to (temporarily) keep earning a salary from Ebay, but usually (for most companies, except those asleep at the wheel) this will revert to more typical local salary, if he cannot return the U.S. Just would like some clarification, it seems you left that hanging.
hoapres May 06, 2011 at 10:13 PM
>> POed Lib, please let's keep the comments on this forum respectful. << O.K. >> Who cares? The technology companies care. << So what ?? People are sold a "bunch of goods" when they claim high tech is "special". IT (or the vast majority of it) is not "rocket scientist" like theoretical physics requiring special smarts. >> But to put your comment into context, American companies do have to search for employees in the U.S. first << No they don't. >> That's part of the application process. << No it's not. >> They must show that they cannot find these specialized professional domestically before they go overseas. << No they don't. >> From my understanding, no U.S. worker has lost an engineering job to someone from abroad. << Your understanding is wrong. >> There just aren't enough American-born engineers. << Got this wrong too. >> A more constructive comment would have been, we should fix our education system so that U.S. workers can get those jobs<< More constructive would be for journalists to start INVESTIGATING before writing articles on incorrect assumptions.
Donna Conroy May 06, 2011 at 10:36 PM
To readers, Claudia Cruz replied to my offer on a follow-up article. Her reply is unprofessional and unbusiness like. Claudia repeated twice that she doesn't have an agenda. I have worked with many journalists on this issue; this concept of "agenda" would never even be entertained with these professionals! She starts her email response with "I had started this response this morning (before you chose to attack me for remaining silent ... really? I have a lot of other things to do and it's much easier to formulate a response with time than to react without thinking.) If I choose to reply to a comments, it's because it was an immediate problem and I must moderate the site. Violence is never the answer, unless you are okay with people advocating violence (and then of course hiding under the shield of anonymity)." Claudia, it's your responsibility to monitor comments and pull offensive or inappropriate comments. You failed to do so. Instead, you played the "violence" card in attempt to discredit all the valid comments that, if you had taken seriously, would have sharpened your grasp of the issue and made you a better reporter. You wrote to me, "So people can attack me all they want and accuse me of not admitting that I got facts wrong. The facts I put in the article are correct for the article that was written. If I was writing a different article, the facts would have been different." This is your agenda; to maintain your illusions of journalistic accuracy.
Donna Conroy May 06, 2011 at 11:36 PM
Another quote from Claudia Cruz's email to me reveals her racially tinged attack against Black and Hispanic IT professionals who've been systematically displaced...after giving their best years to build Silicon Valley's tech preeminence: "And yes, I've also noticed--as you point out to me--the lack of Black and Hispanics (whether citizens or permanent residents) who work as engineers (there are some but most work on the business/admin side, not as developers/techies)." These talented Black and Hispanic developers and techies have been displaced, legally, by companies using the H1-b program. That's why you, Claudia, don't see them. They were castaway before you arrived.
debug May 06, 2011 at 11:49 PM
These are temporary working visas and not immigrant visas. America needs to innovate from within..with heavy unemployment the government should cancel the following visas: H1-b, L1, OPT, EB1, EB2 and EB3 which allow foreigners to take American jobs. That's one way we can promote economic growth. All I have to say is: the politicians that dreamed up NAFTA, CAFTA, and the like including outsourcing must have had rocks for brains to have ever thought those things would be good for our country. How in the world (no pun intended) could fair trade (what a joke) with all those other countries be good for us!!! It was the beginning of unemployment when those things were voted in. Our companies took off for the cheap labor, and our people lost their jobs. Personally, I would rather pay more for things and have Americans employed than to have cheap products from China that don't hold up for long anyway!!!! The vast majority of foreigners here on guestworker visas are ordinary white collar workers with common skill sets. Why, why, why????
hoapres May 06, 2011 at 11:59 PM
>> Now how about posing some suggestions/solutions? << That should be obvious. Don't issue any more new H1Bs. The few geniuse can come in on O1s. >> This class of immigrants are legally entitled to be here for the duration of their visa. << As long as they remain employed with their current employer. Of course the law can be changed overnight. Nor are H1Bs immigrants. >> Many (probably more than just some) do contribute to the companies they work for, if not like an earlier gentleman said before, they could be let. Should they be able to go through the proper channels and seek to obtain a green card? << No. Let me explain this in simple terms we can all understand. Think of America as a big family with Americans sitting at the family table waiting for dinner. If enough food exists to go around then you help out the less fortunate. When enough food doesn't exist to go around then you the less fortunate don't get fed. What is all too often left ouf of these discussions is the H1B holding a job that an unemployed American needs to feed his family.
Mark May 07, 2011 at 12:00 AM
"The largest number of H1-Bs went to Intel–723–followed by Cisco at 308 and Oracle 272." From the article. I have a hispanic friend who works at Intel. He used to work under an Indian H1b and he confided in me that she is a racist. She gave him a hard time while giving her Indian coworkers preferential treatment. It got so bad he had to switch departments.
Rudy Torrent May 07, 2011 at 12:59 AM
The internet is filled with horror stories like these: DogMattic Aug 4, 2009 3:24 AM GMT Texas Instruments just fired 3600 Americans ... and is applying for about 232 MORE foreigners. I was one of those replaced ... after 15 years dedicated service, and 12 years serving my country in the US Military. I'm all for hiring the best & brightest ... which according to my performance reviews, GPA & publications ... includes ME! Companies that hire H-1B's below market wages, or who lay-off qualified Americans ... are TRAITORS! If Cruz wasn't intent on currying (pardon the pun) favors from her sponsors in the high-tech junta, she would have done some research before inciting this rhetorical race war.
Claudia Cruz (Editor) May 07, 2011 at 01:15 AM
Donna... there was indeed a comment that incited violence and use of force, which I deleted.
Claudia Cruz (Editor) May 07, 2011 at 01:18 AM
I never took a position as to whether they were displaced or not. I wrote what I observed. "My racially tinged attack against Black and Hispanic IT professionals" is your reply? Again, attacking me and distorting my words.
Doc Savage May 07, 2011 at 05:24 AM
Here is another poor soul spreading the bad word for more foreign talent through the H-1B program. http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20110506-716104.html I suggest we give them a bit of our time and attention, this one here is a lost cause
Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar May 07, 2011 at 06:24 AM
At Patch, we check our facts before we publish them. We stand by the reporting done by Ms. Nowell and Ms. Cruz. The conversation on this forum has turned disrespectful and we must close this thread. Thank you for reading.

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