Immigration Factoid

Pittsburgh facts and stats aren't usually my thing, but I can't resist pointing to yesterday's New York Times feature on American tech companies and the challenges they face in building an international workforce. The interesting piece of the story -- and the piece that's relevant here -- is a graphic that apparently isn't available (yet?) online. It's a map of the US, studded with bubbles that signify the number of H1-B visa applications by county in 2008. There is a very big bubble in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area, and big bubbles in the New York/New Jersey and Northern Virginia/DC regions. No surprise there.

Among Rust Belt regions, Oakland County, Michigan (Detroit) and Allegheny County show up with the largest bubbles, and the numbers are surprising. In 2008, Oakland County had 16,639 H1-B applicants. The largest applicant (the Times graphic includes the largest applicant for each county listed) was Syntel.

That contrasts with 9,262 applications in King County, Washington, where the largest applicant was (no surprise here) Microsoft.

Allegheny County? 9,122 H1-B applicants in 2008. And the largest applicant? Fujitsu Consulting, which back in 2006 acquired a local company, Rapidigm.

H1-B visa statistics may understate both the scope of the international presence in local IT, and the demand for a greater presence. There are a number of successful IT firms in Pittsburgh that were founded and are owned by natives of other countries who have settled permanently in the US. Some very large companies in Pittsburgh grow their IT staffs with consultants rather than employees, putting the visa onus on some other firm. And, of course there is the H1-B cap itself, which has been the subject of ongoing conversations between the Pittsburgh technology community and our hard-working public servants in Washington, DC. Raise or remove the cap, and the numbers of foreign-born tech professionals in Pittsburgh is likely to grow.


2 Responses to "Immigration Factoid"

Schultz said... 4/18/2009 10:37 PM

We had a lengthy debate on this topic last year so I will try to keep it brief. The problem with the H1B program is not the number of permits issued. The problem is that the H1's are going to the big IT Staffing firms and consulting firms that are simply using the program to replace higher cost American employees. Wipro, Infosys, Tata, and many of the firms receiving the highest number of H1 visas are all guilty of this. The program should give more of the H1s to the Microsofts and Ciscos, the companies that will use the H1's to bring in talent that isn't available domestically.

Jim Russell said... 4/19/2009 6:34 PM

The H-1B visa program isn't really fair to any worker, domestic or foreign-born. It's also an unfair advantage for larger corporations over small businesses. But an H-1B visa is still better than the current alternative: Talent returning to home country.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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