Even as a national debate on immigration rages on in this election year, an analysis of H1-B visa issuance in the country’s major metropolitan areas by a top Washington think-tank has hinted at the need for greater alignment between visa supply and demand which could be attained by removing visa regulation from politics.

In its analysis on “The Search for Skills: Demand for H-1B Immigrant Workers in U.S. Metropolitan Areas” the Brookings Institution noted that employer requests for H1-B visas exceeded the number of visas issued every year except from 2001 to 2003 when the annual cap was temporarily raised from 65,000 to 195,000.

“The U.S. government should develop an independent standing commission on labour and immigration removed from politics that can adjust the cap for H-1B visa applicants based on local employer skills needs,” Brookings argued.

In particular the New York metropolitan area had by far the highest demand for H-1Bs, numbering at almost 53,000 on average over the 2010–11 period and accounting for more than 16 per cent of national demand. Silicon Valley appeared to be a key contributor to H1-B demand too, with Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Washington comprising the remaining top five metro areas, each with between 14,000 and 18,000 requests.

The findings are likely to be of much interest to observers of the Indian immigrant population in the U.S. in particular, as the Brookings report explained that there was a “considerable backlog” in green-card applications due to per-country limits, “particularly for Indian and Chinese nationals who make up the majority of H-1B workers and are unable to leave their sponsoring employer in the interim.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s most recent report, India had the highest number of H-1B recipients in 2011, comprising 58 per cent of all approved petitions. China followed at 8.8 percent, followed by Canada at 3.5 per cent. These patterns have persisted throughout the past decade, the Brookings study said.

In terms of employer trends among “capped institutions” or private firms subject to the annual H1-B cap of 65,000 visas, Microsoft Corporation led the way with 4,109 applications on average during the 2010-11 period. Firms headquartered in India were also among the top applicants, including Tata Consultancy Services Limited (second rank), Wipro Limited (fourth rank), Larsen and Toubro Limited (sixth rank), IBM India (seventh rank) and Infosys Limited (eighth rank).

Overall the report noted that the top 25 employers requesting H-1B workers accounted for 12 per cent of all applications and are composed of an even mix of American and non-American companies. These firms generally specialised in information technology, consulting, and electronics manufacturing. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations accounted for almost two-thirds of requests for H-1B workers, the study showed.

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