The report analyzes the demand for H-1B workers at the metropolitan level, region by region. It finds there is no national shortage or glut of skilled workers and that supply and demand vary by region. The report determines that demand for H-1B’s is highest in tech centers such as New York, Silicon Valley (San Francisco and San Jose), Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Chicago, and Boston. Not coincidentally, these places are among those with the lowest unemployment rates for bachelor’s-degree holders. It’s the same in regions that house America’s research centers. Places such as Columbus, Ind., where engine manufacturer Cummins is based, and Rochester, Minn., home of medical giant Mayo Clinic, are among the regions with the highest demand for H-1Bs and lowest unemployment rates for bachelor’s degree holders (3 percent in Columbus and 1.5 percent in Rochester for 2010). In other words, where there is demand for skilled workers, there is also the most innovation economic growth, whether they come from the U.S. or abroad.
Report authors, Neil Ruiz, Jill Wilson, and Shyamali Choudhury, concluded that the government could be stifling innovation by limiting H-1B visas and not taking into account local demand for highly-skilled workers. Demand for these visas has far exceeded supply nearly every year for the last decade. Additionally, the government has been indirectly taxing U.S. R&D and innovation by imposing hefty visa fees, which range from $1,575 to $4,325 depending on employer size — plus $1,225 for expedited (read: timely) processing, according to the report.
The visa fees are meant to fund training for American workers and for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. But, according to Brookings, that’s not how the majority of this money is spent. The metro areas most in need of skilled workers receive the least funding. The average funding per working-age person in high demand areas is a little over $3. But Wichita, Kan., for example, receives nearly $23 per worker. Portland, Maine gets roughly $21, and El Paso, Tex. about $15. These are hardly booming tech centers with severe shortages of engineering talent. And research centers fare even worse: Columbus and Rochester both receive no funds from the H1-B grant program.
One would expect that such conclusive data would put the debate to rest. But this isn’t the case, as was evidenced by the heated discussion that ensued between Vice President Joe Biden’s former economic advisor Jared Bernstein and me. Brookings requested we review the report and comment on it at a public event on July 18.