Dearth of work visas slow Houston’s tech scene

Houston and U.S. technology companies in over 200 metropolitan areas faced difficulties hiring workers due to a lack of H-1B worker’s visas, a recent study shows.

According to a study produced by the Partnership for a New American Economy, in 2007 and 2008, the system of selecting those who will be granted the H-1B worker’s visa – a visa aimed toward foreign-born workers in computer-related fields – hampered the creation of 3,894 jobs for U.S.-born workers here in Houston and 231,224 jobs for U.S.-born workers around the country.

Despite the fact that Houston has become a growing center for technology developmentJohn Feinblatt, chairman of the Partnership for a New American Economy, told the Houston Business Journal that the way the immigration system is set up prevents companies from growing faster.

“Our findings are that if Houston had not been denied visas, the metropolitan area could have created 3,900 tech jobs, and we think Houston workers could have made $41 million more in wages,” Feinblatt said. “Think of a technology company that grows. That’s not only good for the computer scientists, it’s good for the human resource department and secretaries,” said Feinblatt.

Feinblatt added that the lack of growth also hurts the communities these companies reside in, because less employees equals less dollars spent around the community.

“More people are going out to dinner, enjoying the benefits in that city,” Feinblatt said. “There’s clearly an effect throughout the city. That’s what this study so poignantly shows, it’s at all levels of the economic ladder.”

Local employers are finding it difficult to recruit enough American-born talent to fill the void of these lost jobs, said Feinblatt. Of all the jobs that weren’t filled by H-1B applicants, Feinblatt said 90 percent of them went unfilled or away altogether because the businesses couldn’t find replacement workers.

“We’re just not training people in critical STEM fields that are just big drivers of our economy these days,” he said.

“Smart immigration reform” is needed to help instill growth in American industry, Bob Ackerly, co-founder and co-owner of Houston-area electronics components distributor Smith and Associates LP, told HBJ last month.

“We’re like everybody else — we’re hard-pressed to find enough engineering talent in this town and the state of Texas. And we all depend on that, that’s the age we live in — a very high-tech age.

“So we’re all reliant on visas to bring in people who aren’t U.S. citizens to work for us. And we’d like to see more immigration reform that would allow more people to come here and work, until the point that we can produce enough engineers right here,” Ackerly said.

And for companies that are not located in major metropolitan areas, the effects of the process for a visa application can be much greater.

The process for the H-1B visas only allows 65,000 visas to be doled out annually, with an additional 20,000 for people with a Ph.D or master’s from a U.S. university or college. The issue is, Feinblatt said, there are significantly more applications than visas being accepted, creating a lottery system for those who apply.

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About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…