Recently we were working on a grant about how to better prepare our workforce for the jobs available to them. During this process, I was asked to investigate H1-B Visa applications. What I found altered my perception about the nature of the highly-skilled, highly-paid immigrant worker population in Pittsburgh. Between October 2012 and March 2013, one thousand five hundred and twenty-four (1,524) immigrant visa applications were approved through the Department of Labor. All 1,524 H1-B Visa are for highly-skilled, highly-paid, and hard-to-fill positions. The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa in the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act, section 101(a)(15)(H). It allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.
Over 150 Pittsburgh-based employers participate in this program and import workers to fill jobs that Pittsburghers either can’t or won’t take. Combined, Pittsburgh H1-B workers will earn over 120 million dollars in the coming 12 months. From a social perspective, this program is great because it is diversifying Pittsburgh by attracting people from a variety of cultures from all over the world. A culturally diverse city is interesting and attractive to potential young leaders who may consider relocating here. From a purely economic perspective, this program is also desirable—corporations get the talent they need without having to relocate, while workers move to America and enjoy meaningful salaries and gain valuable experience. However, from the local workforce development perspective, this program is one way of assessing the real gap between what Pittsburgh employers need and what Pittsburgh residents can provide.
The question is… Are we focusing on providing training and education in right areas?
Largest Demand Occupation: Software Developer
- Over 1/3rd of the H1-B visas requested were for software developers—586
- 10% of H1-B visas went to Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners
- 4 of the top 5 occupations were computer related—Including computer programmers and system analysts
- Engineers rank 15th on the list of hardest-to-fill jobs after 14 other occupations such as financial analysts, management analysts, and database administrators. However, Engineers do cover 14 different occupations and together they represent 64 H1-B Visa applications
Highest Paying Occupation: Obstetrician/Gynecologist ($230,000 annually)
- 3 of the top 5 highest paying occupations are in the medical field—Physicians and Surgeons are the highest paid foreign workers
- The average foreign worker is paid approximately $80,000 per year with a range of $25,000 to $230,000
- Over half (52%) of foreign workers in the H1-B Visa program make more annually than the average salary of Pittsburgh City workers ($68,000)
Other interesting occupations that made the list:
- Operations Research Analysts
- Information Security Analysts
In just one year, foreign workers have stepped in to fill gaps in 104 different occupations and were hired by 155 different organizations based in Pittsburgh. Some of the $120 million dollars they will receive in the next 12 months will be re-invested back into the Pittsburgh economy; however, some money will likely be remitted to support family in foreign countries. All of the activity ultimately supports the economy. However, the presence of these workers represents an unmet employer need that workforce developers should pay attention to. Pittsburgh-bred talent should be capable of taking the jobs available around them—even if they choose not to. Currently, this is simply not the case. Employers must deal with wage floors from H1-B visas and Pittsburghers must deal with under-employment and unemployment. I believe we can benefit greatly from welcoming foreign talent and from building capacity in Pittsburgh talent. Striking the right balance will require innovative ideas. Not everyone agrees that there is a need for innovation in community and workforce development but I think this program is one of many that makes the case for innovation.