Offshore outsourcing companies continued to make up the majority of the top 10 H-1B visa users in 2011, according to new government data. These offshore firms have been adding employees by the thousands as their revenues increase.
Cognizant, a New Jersey-based IT services provider with major operations overseas, led the list. The company had 4,222 initial or new visas approved and 1,493 renewal petitions.
Google was last on the list, with 383 new H-1B visas and 232 renewals.
Offshoring is showing signs of being a major political issue this year, but opinions remain divided.
Top H-1B visa approvals by company
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President Barack Obama highlighted it in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. But he hasn't coupled offshore outsourcing with visa usage. One of the leading Republican candidates, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has called for eliminating the H-1B cap and says the cap policy is wrong.
The data for this story comes from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. One list shows new applications for H-1B visas; the second list shows the combined totals for new visas and renewals. A H-1B visa must be renewed every three years.
The U.S. issues 85,000 H-1B visas annually. Of that number, 20,000 are reserved for advanced degree graduates of U.S. universities.
In total, the new visa applications from the top 10 users account for 22% of all the visas allowed by the U.S. each year. But offshore providers probably have a much larger percentage of the visas issued under the 65,000 cap, which includes graduates for foreign universities. An exact breakdown isn't available.
"Once again, the offshore outsourcing industry [is] the major [beneficiary] of the H-1B program," said Ron Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. "Eight of the top 10 H-1B employers use offshoring business models and are clearly exploiting loopholes in the H-1B program."
Approvals for new H-1B visas
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Hira believes "politicians are subsidizing the offshoring of jobs by keeping the H-1B loopholes in place, costing American workers hundreds of thousands of jobs."
Obama's attack on outsourcing has mostly been focused on manufacturing, though he has also been urging companies to in-source more work. A recent White House policy forum looked at that specific issue and included IT.
Hira said that Obama should support some of the changes being sought U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "Closing those loopholes would create and retain hundreds of thousands of American jobs and wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime," he said.
One restriction sought by Grassley and Durbin would prohibit any firm from having more than 50% of their workforce using H-1B and L-1 visas, which are used to transfer company personnel from an overseas office to the U.S.
Microsoft is the largest H-1B user that's not an IT services company. The company has long been an advocate of increasing the number of H-1B visas. Google, too, has been critical of the cap on the H-1B program.
Indian firms have been trying to increase their hiring in the U.S. in response to their concerns that Congress may set restrictions. India-based HCL Technologies said Thursday that it plans to create 10,000 jobs in the U.S. and Europe in the next five years. HCL said its hiring plans are part of an effort to be a "socially responsible business."
HCL doesn't know what portion of those 10,000 jobs would be in the U.S. But it says that whatever that portion turns out to be, 40% will be permanent hires of U.S. workers. That is the percentage it now has in the U.S.
The company employs 7,540 in the U.S. today, which includes those on temporary worker visas, such as the H-1B; permanent resident or green card holders; and U.S. citizens. A spokesman for the company said approximately 40% of that total, or about 3,000 workers, are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
HCL is building five development centers in the U.S. and E.U. in Seattle; Cary, N.C.; Helsinki, Finland; Krakow, Poland; and in Dublin, Ireland.
Cognizant is one of the fastest-growing outsourcing firms.
Cognizant finished its third quarter, which ended in September 2011, with 130,400 workers, an increase of approximately 34,800 from the same quarter in 2010, according to SEC filings. The company, which is due to report its fourth quarter earnings on Feb. 8, is expecting last year's revenue growth to be at least 33%.
The second largest firm is India-based Infosys, which employed 145,000 workers at the end of 2011, an increase of more than 17,000 from the year-ago quarter. This company is facing litigation over its use of the B-1 visa, which is a visitor's visa.
Another Indian giant, Wipro, was at nearly 137,000 employees, up more than 17,000 from the year-ago quarter.
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about H-1B visas: How the 'tech worker visa' is remaking IT in America.