KANSAS CITY, MO. – Deepthi Valli is weighing choices she would rather not have to make: return to India or enroll in graduate school. It doesn't appear she can keep developing health care software products at Cerner Corp.
Valli, 26, is one of thousands of highly skilled foreign-born employees whose U.S. employers can't get the work visas needed to keep them employed. Federal limits on the work permits, called H-1B visas, are too low to meet employers' requests.
That's not just Valli's problem, and it's not just Cerner's problem. According to a recent report, her inability to keep working in the United States sends a negative ripple throughout the job market, depressing job growth and wages for American-born workers.
The report from the Partnership for a New American Economy catches a political hot potato. Efforts to increase the number of H-1B visas have been considered in Congress but opposed by trade unions, professional organizations and members of both major political parties. They argue that immigrant labor, especially in high-skill science and technology jobs, works at lower pay and takes work away from American-born workers.
Not so, says the Partnership report. It says the federal law limiting H-1B visas to 65,000 a year hurts job creation for Americans whose jobs would be tied to H-1B positions. Also, employers who sponsor H-1B visas must submit documentation that they pay prevailing wages.
Researchers analyzed extensive job and economic data from 2007-2008 to conclude: "Denying H-1B visas didn't help the economies of America's cities or their U.S.-born workers. Instead, it cost their tech sectors hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in missed wages."
The report said H-1B visa denials in 2007 and 2008 meant that as many as 230,000 spinoff tech jobs for American-born workers weren't created in U.S. metro areas. That cost U.S.-born, college-educated workers in computer-related fields as much as $3 billion in annual earnings.
The economic damage for the Kansas City area included an average of 658 H-1B visas denied per year in 2007 and 2008. That meant an estimated 1,932 jobs for American-born workers — jobs that would have been tied to the H-1B positions — weren't created.
H-1B work permits are granted for three years with a renewal option to six years and a possible pathway to "green card" permanent residency status.
Because there are far more applications than available visas, U.S. employers must go through a lottery to get them. This year, as in past years, applications swamped the system within hours of the April 1 filing date for applications.
The Partnership, an organization founded by businessman Michael Bloomberg, focused on work visas connected to science, technology, engineering and math jobs.
Its analysis used data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the U.S. Department of Labor and the American Community Survey.
"It makes no business or economic sense for folks who care about America to send good-paying jobs or hardworking talent overseas," said Mira Mdivani, a corporate immigration attorney in Kansas City.