Outsourcing and Skill Imports: Foreign High-Skilled Workers on H-1b and L-1 Visas in the United States

43 Pages Posted: 30 Dec 2005

See all articles by Jacob F. Kirkegaard

Jacob F. Kirkegaard

Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics

Date Written: December 2005


This working paper looks in detail at the H-1B and L-1 visa programs for temporary employment in the United States. Based on official data from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the US Department of State, H-1B and L-1 visa issuance rapidly increased in the late 1990s, followed by a marked slowdown after 2001. This points to the highly cyclical nature of both visa programs. Indian nationals and immigrants working in computer-related occupations dominate the H1-B and L-1 population in the United States, but these two groups are also found to be the most cyclical segment, with very large declines in inflows after 2001. The total population of H-1B visa-holders in 2003 is estimated to range between 387,000 and 746,000, of which 160,000 to 306,000 were Indian nationals. As all data on H-1B/L-1 visa-holders are gross numbers and gross jobs data for comparable categories are absent, the extent of the impact of these visa programs on the US labor market cannot be gauged precisely. A broad range of US industries and educational institutions are found to be employing H-1B recipients, with the IT industry being the dominant sector. Evidence of aggressive wage-cost cutting, including paying H-1B recipients only the legally mandated 95 percent of the prevailing US wage, is found among some H-1B employers, although no systematic abuse of the system is present.

Keywords: Outsourcing, offshoring, high-skilled labor, immigration, H-1B/L-1 visas

JEL Classification: F22, F23, J44, J61, K31, L86

Suggested Citation

Kirkegaard, Jacob F., Outsourcing and Skill Imports: Foreign High-Skilled Workers on H-1b and L-1 Visas in the United States (December 2005). Institute for International Economics Working Paper No. 05-15, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=872465 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.872465

Jacob F. Kirkegaard (Contact Author)

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