Most US H-1B Employers Use Programme to Pay Migrant Workers Well Below Market Wages

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 A majority of the US H-1B employers, including tech giants like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft, use the temporary work visa program to pay migrant workers well below-market wages, a new report has claimed.

The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers from countries like India and China in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.

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Nearly 500,000 migrant workers are employed in the US in the H-1B status.

“Among the top 30 H-1, B employers are major US firms including Amazon, Microsoft, Walmart, Google, Apple, and Facebook. All of them take advantage of program rules in order to legally pay many of their H-1B workers below the local median wage for the jobs they fill,” said the report released by the Economic Policy Institute.

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Authored by Daniel Costa and Ron Hira, the report titled “H-1B visas and prevailing wage levels” says 60 percent of H-1B positions certified by the US Department of Labor (DOL) are assigned wage levels well below the local median wage for the occupation.

While the H-1B programme rules allow this, the DOL has the authority to change it, but has not, it said.

While over 53,000 employers used the H-1B programme in 2019, the top 30 H-1B employers accounted for more than one in four of all 389,000 H-1B petitions approved by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2019, it said.

Half of the top 30 H-1B employers use an outsourcing business model to provide staff for third-party clients, rather than employing H-1B workers directly to fill a special need at the company that applies for the visa, the report said.

The report alleged that major US-based technology firms that hire H-1B workers directly, rather than contract them out to third-party employers, had significant shares of their certified H-1B positions assigned as Level 1 or Level 2, the two lowest wage levels in fiscal 2019, both of which are below the local median wage.

“Until now, much of the public discourse and proposals for reforming H-1B have focused on rules that would constrain the practices of these outsourcing companies,” the report said.

But researches reveal that many firms that employ H-1B workers directly, including some of the biggest names in the technology industry such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Qualcomm, Salesforce and Uber, pay a large share of their H-1B workers at one of the two lowest wage levels, Level 1 or Level 2.

In addition, these direct-hire firms also hire many H-1B workers on a contract basis through outsourcing firms, it added.

Microsoft, the seventh-largest H-1B employer in 2019, assigned one-third (35 percent) of its positions on Labor Condition Applications (LCAs) as Level 1 and two-fifths (42 percent) as Level 2. In total, Microsoft assigned more than three-quarters (77 percent) of its H-1B positions as Level 1 or Level 2, a wage level below the local median wage.

Microsoft assigned only 18 percent of its positions as Level 3 (the median) wage, and a mere three percent as Level 4, the only above-median wage level.

Amazon, which appears twice in the H-1B top 30, as “ Services” (no. 4 among the biggest H-1B employers) and “Amazon Web Services” (no. 27), also assigned the vast majority of its H-1B positions at one of the two lowest wage levels.

According to the report, Services assigned 34 percent of its H-1B positions as Level 1 and 51 percent as Level 2, for a total of 86 percent of all positions certified.

Amazon Web Services assigned 47 percent of its H-1B workers as Level 1 and 36 percent as Level 2. Combined, Services and Amazon Web Services had 12,428 positions certified at Level 1 or 2, for a total of 85 percent certified at a wage level below the median. Only one in eight (1,684) were certified at or above the 50th percentile (Level 3 or Level 4), it said.

Apple, eleventh on the list, assigned 558 of its H-1B positions (two percent) as Level 1 and one-third (32 percent) as Level 2, for a combined total of 34 percent at Levels 1 and 2. Apple assigned 32 percent as Level 3 and 34 percent as Level 4.

Google, ranked the fifth-largest H-1B employer, had 9,085 H-1B positions certified by the DOL in fiscal 2019. It assigned less than half of one percent of its certified H-1B jobs as Level 1 and 54 percent as Level 2. Only 37 percent of Google’s jobs were certified at or above the median wage, the report said.

Facebook assigned only one position as Level 1 and 10 percent of its 6,118 total H-1B positions as Level 2. Twenty-five percent were certified at Level 3 and 16 percent at Level 4. Nearly half (49 percent) of Facebook’s H-1B positions were certified at a wage established by an alternative wage survey, making it difficult to assess its H-1B wage distribution, it said.

Uber, the 29th-ranked H-1B employer in 2019, had 5,708 H-1B positions certified by the DOL. Less than one percent was assigned as Level 1 and just over half (53 percent) as Level 2. Just over one-third were assigned as Level 3 and 13 percent as Level 4.

While Uber had 5,708 H-1B positions certified by DOL and hired 1,160 H-1B workers in 2019, in the same year, it made headlines by laying off 400 employees.

The report claims that the top 30 H-1B employers are in fact hiring H-1B workers to fill a very large number of routine (Levels 1 and 2) positions that require relatively little experience and ordinary skills.

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