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New data reveals it's not just high-tech companies using H-1B guest workers

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The H-1B visa program which allows companies to import temporary guest workers for technical jobs is the key federal initiative on the much-discussed topic of skilled migration. But surprisingly little is known about how it actually works in practice. Which is what makes the new site GuestWorkerData.org from the Economic Policy Institute and the Jobs With Justice Education Fund so important. Based on FOIA requests they have maps and interactives that for the first time really let us see where H1-B and other guest workers are going, and which companies are bringing them in.

The groups behind the site are skeptics of expanding H-1B (as the Obama administration seems to be considering) and advocate for substantial revisions to how the program works. But regardless of your views, the information is fascinating.

It's no surprise to see that California is the number one home state of companies looking to bring in foreign tech workers. But California's number one user of H-1B workers last year wasn't one of Silicon Valley's famous consumer facing tech giants. It's HCL America, not exactly a household name, which refers to itself as "a leading IT consulting and outsourcing software development company." Indeed, somewhat paradoxically outsourcing firms are one of the major importers of guest workers. This is presumably because, as research from Michael Clemens has shown, Indian employees of outsourcing firms increase their productivity six-fold by coming to work in the USA. One view is that the heavy use of H-1B workers by outsourcing companies shows the need for reforms. At the same time, I would say the enormous productivity boost associated with moving to America shows what a potential win-win more migration of skilled workers is.

Either way, you do see the outsourcing companies over and over on this list much more than you see the consumer-tech companies that typically come to mind when you think high-tech.

The number two state is New Jersey, and it's leading H-1B employer is Cognizant Systems. Number three is Texas and Infosys. Then it's New York and Mphasis.

The other thing that's interesting is that in the majority of states whose companies simply don't host very many H-1B workers, the guest workers are often found in enterprises we wouldn't consider tech companies at all. For Ohio, the top user of H-1B workers is the Cleveland Clinic. For Arkansas, it's Walmart. For Rhode Island, it's CVS. In Nevada, it's Bally. For Connecticut, it's Yale and for many other states a college or university comes in at number one. Which goes to show that in the modern world, technology workers pop up in all kinds of places — not just at tech companies — and the terms under which technology workers are imported has implications well beyond Silicon Valley.