Brookings Study Charts Regional Variations in H1B Usage

A new study from Washington’s Brookings Institution provides an interesting breakout of H1B usage patterns, showing which areas of the United States have the greatest concentration of these highly skilled foreign workers. The purpose of the study is to “provide state and metropolitan leaders in government, business, education, and workforce development with the information they need to respond to regional skills deficits” that cause employers to seek H1B workers. [See The Search for Skills: Demand for H1B Immigrant Workers in U.S. Metropolitan Areas, by Neil G. Ruiz, Jill H. Wilson, and Shyamali Choudhury, Brookings Institution (July 2012).]

The Brookings study examined regional demand for H1B visas by looking at the number of labor condition applications (LCAs) filed in each area. No H1B application can proceed until the U.S. Department of Labor approves the LCA, which is designed to ensure that wage levels and working conditions for foreign workers do not adversely affect those of similarly employed U.S. workers.

As one might expect, H1B usage is distributed across the country, albeit unevenly. Greatest demand for H1B workers tends to come from what the Brookings study calls “regional innovation clusters,” like Silicon Valley or North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. The highest demand for H1Bs, though, comes not from Silicon Valley but from the New York City metropolitan region. The study found that the New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island area filed an average of 52,921 LCAs from 2010 to 2011, while the San Francisco-San Jose area averaged over 31,000 in the same period.

Among the other findings:

  • “Demand for H1B workers has fluctuated with economic and political cycles over the last decade and reflects a wide range of employers’ needs for high-skilled temporary workers.
  • “One hundred and six metropolitan areas had at least 250 requests for H1B workers in the 2010-2011 period, accounting for 91 percent of all requests but only 67 percent of the national workforce.
  • “Metropolitan areas vary by the number of employers using the H1B program and the cap status of the employers.” In some areas, universities and research institutions use the lion’s share of H1Bs, while in others, corporate usage is predominant.
  • “In 92 of the 106 high demand metropolitan areas, STEM occupations accounted for more than half of all requests.”

The study takes no sides in the long-running debate over H1B policy, but it underscores the need for the government, at all levels, to even up the mismatch between the demand for high-skilled workers and the supply of talent, both foreign and homegrown. It serves as a reminder that innovation drives our economic growth, and that we need to attract and retain the world’s smartest, most creative workers to stay ahead.

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