Facebook Might Outmaneuver Competition in the H1-B Visa Stakes

February 17, 2017 1:42 pm | Updated 1 year ago.

With more than 15% of the Facebook’s US employees on HI-B visa, Facebook apparently has reasons to worry about the proposed reforms to the H1-B rules by President Trump. Facebook’s share of foreign temporary workers is higher than that for Alphabet’s Google, Apple, Amazon or Microsoft.

H1-B visas are to facilitate recruitment of ‘speciality workers’, who are highly skilled with advanced degrees in niche areas. This helps get in, though not limited to, scientists, engineers or computer programmers who might be in short supply in the United States. Every year 85,000 such visas are awarded which are allocated through a lottery scheme.

The existing system has two major issues, which has implications for Facebook. Firstly most of the H1-B visas are cornered by the outsourcing firms like TCS, given that they flood the turnstiles with a large number of applications thereby increasing their probability of getting picked up in the lottery. Secondly not always high talent workers get hired; rather the H1-B route is used to get cheaper foreign workers.

If the aforesaid two loopholes in the existing H1-B system get plugged, Facebook will stand to gain. President Trump during his presidential run up had discussed with the top technology executives which included Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on the options available. Amongst the alternatives discussed was the possibility of ending the lottery and replacing it with a system that would award the visas to the highest-paying jobs first.

Facebook would clearly have an edge to corner more number of H1-B visas if the proposed ‘highest paymaster first’ system kicks in, than it currently does under the lottery system. The reason being it is monetarily the most generous to its temporary foreign workers compared to tech biggies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Apple. In 2015 the median salary paid to H1-B visa holders at Facebook was $135K across all positions which was the highest.

Across job functions also Facebook largely compares favourably with top tech firms. Facebook leads the pack in salaries for software engineers with Amazon bringing up the rear. For financial analysts, Facebook is the biggest outlier with its median H-1B salary 46% higher than the next highest median salary (Microsoft). Salary to computer systems analyst is the only exception with Facebook amongst the bottom two for foreign workers. For systems software engineers, Facebook comes a close second to Google in the salary rankings, and same is the case for marketing managers.

It may also be mentioned that for 2015 whereas the median salary at Facebook for H1-B visa holders was 135K, the salary by TCS , a traditional outsourcer was around 60K.

Therefore if the highest paid jobs get the first preference for H1B visa, Facebook’s exposure to changing visa rules for foreign temporary workers to a large extent gets tempered. It might well be able to out-maneuver the top tech giants and the big tech outsourcers in the H1-B stakes.