Imagine a scenario where Steve Jobs is born in Copenhagen, Denmark. After coming to study in the United States and finishing his Bachelor’s degree, he secures a job with a Silicon Valley startup. Because Steve is not a U.S. citizen, the startup applies for an H-1B visa for him. The number of H-1B visa petitions is at a record high and Steve’s petition does not get picked in the lottery. The startup has no choice but to let Steve go. Steve does not become co-founder of Apple. Steve has no choice but to return to his home country. Now imagine a world with no iPhones: no access to the latest news, emails, and Facebook at your fingertips, no Angry Birds and no MyFitnessPal.
While this is clearly an exaggerated scenario, what is not exaggerated is the miniscule number of congressionally allotted 85,000 H-1B visas per year. This year, USCIS received a whopping 233,000 H-1B visa applications. Because there are not enough visas available, the United States will turn away almost two-thirds of these educated and talented professionals. Of course, most of these professionals will not have the same impact as Steve Jobs, but maybe some will.
Mike Krieger is an inventor of Instagram. A few years ago, a native of Brazil, he came to the U.S. to study at Stanford University. Upon graduation, he secured a job. His company was able to obtain an H-1B visa for him. This was 2009, the economy was bad, and not many companies were hiring. Once he changed jobs, he waited months for his new H-1B visa. Mike claims that it took him longer to obtain his work visa than to create Instagram. What if he applied for an H-1B visa this year, along with 233,000 others? What if he was not chosen in the lottery and had to go back to Brazil or move to a country that would take him and his innovative mind? Can you imagine a world without Instagram? Perhaps. But those 200 employees Instagram currently has, would sure not like to.
Last year, the top ten occupations that applied for an H-1B visa included: Computer Systems Analysts; Computer Programmers (208,596 applications); Software Developers, Applications (105,048); Computer Occupations, All Others (77,827); Software Developers , Systems Software (41,323); Accountants and Auditors (22,466); Management Analysts (21,973); Financial Analysts (18,632); Network and Computer Systems Administrators (13,771), and; Computer and Information Systems Managers (10,328).
The top ten States that applied for the H-1B visa last year included: California (137,793), Texas (68,718), New Jersey (59,445), New York (56, 440), Illinois (42,779), Pennsylvania (37,382), Washington (29,840), Georgia (29,657), Massachusetts (27,551), and Florida (24,041).
While there is no data released for this year’s top occupations and states, the most likely guess is that the trend of occupations in technology in California is likely to continue. It is abundantly clear that U.S. companies are seeking foreign talent to fill highly skilled jobs in technology. This foreign talent is helping to fuel our latest innovations. It is not a surprise that tech giants like Facebook and Google are advocating for an increase in the number of visas available each year. Until then, we can only hope that the next great innovation does not slip through our fingers and the next foreign-born Steve Jobs is not told to go to a country with more favorable immigration laws. Our country needs talent, both domestic and foreign, to help fuel innovation and promote economic growth.