The U.S. Workforce of Foreign H-1B Specialty Workers: En Bloc Matching Estimate of Petitioners Microdata
19 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2021 Last revised: 2 Mar 2021
Date Written: November 9, 2019
We address the fundamental yet long overdue question that U.S. immigration policies hinge on: “How big is the H-1B specialty workforce?” During the past decade, the H-1B specialty visa annually admitted between 125,000 and 155,000 skilled foreign workers for a stay of up to six years, suggesting a workforce of say 840,000 if all stayed. Survey-based and government estimates of the stock do not uniquely identify H-1Bs; and indirect estimates must assume (unobserved) rates of attrition such as emigration. We provide estimates using government “petitions” microdata from 2000 to 2010, which contains over more than two million records, matching individual characteristics en bloc between years and from new-to-renewed visas; summing up blocks of matched H-1Bs from 2005 to 2010. This generates a median estimate of 540,000 H-1Bs mid-decade and 476,000 by the end of the decade in the wake of the 2008 recession. The size of this estimate is smaller, and the attrition rates between new and visa continuations, of between one- and two-thirds, are greater than casual expectations. The H-1B earns roughly 8 percent more after renewing their visa.
We found that there are fewer H-1B workers than previously presumed, and that these workers have a high attrition. We are the first to examine the matching rates from new to continuing H-1B cohorts, and the somewhat low matching rates give invaluable insight to the mobility among this workforce. We concluded that the H-1B workforce is fairly mobile, quickly responding to economic cycles and the nature of the visa marketplace.
Keywords: H-1B workforce, visa, immigration
JEL Classification: J11, J15
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation