H1-B visa backlog inhibits semiconductor industry growth - Marketplace (2024)

For the 2025 fiscal year, the grant rate was less than 20%, according to a CATO Institute analysis of government data. Getty Images

Semiconductor manufacturing jobs are coming back to the U.S. in a big way thanks to the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act. President Joe Biden said as much in a speech last April announcing new semiconductor manufacturing facilities in Syracuse, New York.

“We took action to make sure these chips were made in America again, creating tens of thousands and I mean tens of thousands of good-paying jobs,” he said.

That’s an estimated 42,000 new permanent semiconductor positions and many tens of thousands of additional temporary jobs, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.

While some may consider it a good problem to have, filling those roles in manufacturing and engineering may be a challenge.

“We are on the order of tens of thousands of jobs short of filling these when the facilities themselves are ready to come online,” said John Cooney, vice president of global advocacy and public policy for the semiconductor industry association SEMI.

While the U.S. is playing catch up to build up the American-born workforce for those roles, he said immigrants will play a vital role in filling gaps.

“We rely heavily on the H-1B program across the industry,” he said.

The H-1B visa program is a lottery system for educated foreign workers in specialized fields. It’s a lottery because there are far more applicants than the 85,000 visas that are available each year.

Intel engineer Harshad Surdi was among the more than 400,000 applicants awaiting an answer this spring.It was his last shot at the H-1B after graduating a couple years ago.

“It was definitely a huge worry,” he said, “I’ve spent almost a decade in this country doing good research. You know, blood, sweat and tears went to all this. Whatever future I expected out of my time in the U.S. kind of hangs in balance in this visa lottery system.”

Lucky for him, Surdi did get an H-1B for this upcoming year. But that doesn’t mean his visa woes are behind him. Like many semiconductor engineers, he’s from India, and is facing a growing backlog to get his permanent residency or green card.

“I’ve seen many, many, many people who are disheartened by this and are now just giving up hope,” he said.

He’s seen workers move to Europe or Canada because of visa issues. And he’s considered that option — but he’d rather stay in Portland where he can snowboard, rock climb, buy a house and settle down.

“I do want to build a life in the U.S. because my job is here, I really like it here,” Surdi said. “But there’s uncertainty of if I can stay in the U.S. — it kind of hinders me in making any long-term plans.”

The demand for semiconductor workers is increasing. But the visa cap isn’t much different than what it was when the H-1B category was created under the Immigration Act of 1990, when the max number of visas was set at 65,000. The only significant, lasting change to the cap happened in 2004 when 20,000 additional visas were added specifically for foreign students graduating with advanced degrees from U.S. universities.

Despite the stagnant visa cap, U.S. employers have sponsored visas for foreign workers at a growing pace. That mismatch between visas available and the number of applications has become more extreme in the last decade.

In 2014, roughly 70% of H-1B visa applications were approved. For the 2025 fiscal year, the grant rate was less than 20%, according to a CATO Institute analysis of government data.

Immigration attorney Sandra Sheridan Reguerin, of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, has tracked how that’s impacted a major semiconductor employer she works with. For her client, the number of rejected visa applicants who are in their final year of eligibility for the H-1B has been increasing in recent years.

“Even just of those that are at their last-ditch effort, only about 37% of those are getting the visas so the remainder of that, which is 63%, they (employers) have to figure out what to do with these people,” she said.

Semiconductor employers could move them to other countries — some workers may decide to go back to school to extend their stay and others may qualify for other kinds of temporary visas. But it all interferes with company operations.

“That investment went into that talent. And now it’s kind of disrupting the work,” she said.

While the U.S. government may be investing in a new era of semiconductor manufacturing, the immigration laws supporting that workforce still face 20th-century limitations.

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H1-B visa backlog inhibits semiconductor industry growth - Marketplace (2024)

FAQs

What is the H-1B visa? ›

The H-1B program allows employers to hire skilled foreign workers in specialty occupations and authorizes the temporary employment of qualified individuals who are not otherwise authorized to work in the U.S. There are protections in place to help to ensure that the program is not used to discriminate against U.S. ...

What are the unintended consequences of restrictions on H-1B visas? ›

In general, research indicates that limiting H-1B visas decreases the number of American high-skilled jobs, induces more American companies to hire workers overseas, harms small technology startups, and reduces America's global leadership in innovation.

What is the H-1B visa issue? ›

The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant work visa that allows U.S. employers to hire foreign workers with specialized skills to work in the United States for a specific period of time. Typically, the roles require a bachelor's degree or equivalent.

What are the industries for H-1B visa? ›

H-1B specialty occupations may include fields such as architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts. For more information about the H-1B program, visit our H-1B Specialty Occupations webpage.

What is the minimum H-1B salary? ›

The general threshold for an H1B is an annual salary of $60,000. This minimum requirement applies regardless of your occupation, work location, and job level. However, the actual prevailing wage for your job position could be higher than this amount. In such cases, you are required to meet the higher wage requirement.

How long can I stay in the US with an H-1B visa? ›

The H-1B is a Specialty Occupation work authorization visa with a cumulative maximum duration of 6 years. The initial period of stay for those in H-1B status is three (3) years, with extensions available for up to three (3) years thereafter.

Why H-1B visas are getting rejected? ›

Top Reasons for H-1B Visa Denial

Failing to fulfil specialty occupation requirements. Not presenting appropriate academic qualifications. Failing to provide third-party work-site evidence. Incorrectly maintaining your current residency status.

What is the controversy with H-1B visa? ›

Much of the criticism regarding the H-1B program is about companies offering salaries in the lower wage categories to foreign workers. The application filed by Kushner's investment firm to hire a foreign employee appears to satisfy that complaint.

Does H-1B lead to Green Card? ›

If you're an international graduate working in the US on an H-1B visa, you'll most likely apply for a Green Card based on employment. Within this category, there are 3 sub-categories: Immigrant worker. Physician National Interest Waiver.

Which occupation has higher chance of H-1B? ›

When you read or hear about H-1B visas, there usually is a reference to "high tech" workers. To be sure, computer-related jobs consistently account for a large share of the H-1B visa petitions that employers file each year.

What is the new H-1B visa rule? ›

H-1B Fee Changes

For H-1B petitions, Form I-129 will increase from $460 to $780. All H-1B petitions postmarked after April 1, 2024 will be charged the new, higher fee. NOTE: The H-1B registration fee will not increase until next year — the fee will jump significantly, from $10 to $215.

Which company gives most H-1B visa? ›

The Top H-1B Employers
  • Amazon. Amazon is well-known for sponsoring many international students for full-time jobs. ...
  • Google. In 2022, the average salary of someone with an H-1B visa made $164,839. ...
  • Microsoft. ...
  • Apple. ...
  • Ernst & Young (EY) ...
  • Cognizant. ...
  • Cisco Systems. ...
  • Meta/Facebook.
Mar 12, 2024

Who qualifies for an H-1B visa? ›

H-1B status is available to a person who has been offered a temporary professional position by a U.S. employer. A bachelor's degree or higher in a related area is the minimum educational level required for a position to qualify for H-1B status, and the H-1B employee must have this degree (or higher).

Does H-1B lead to green card? ›

If you're an international graduate working in the US on an H-1B visa, you'll most likely apply for a Green Card based on employment. Within this category, there are 3 sub-categories: Immigrant worker. Physician National Interest Waiver.

What jobs qualify for an H-1B visa? ›

Here is a list of some of the most commonly accepted occupations under the H-1B visa program:
  • IT Professionals.
  • Computer Scientists.
  • Systems Analysts/Business Technology Analysts.
  • Engineers.
  • University Professors/Teachers.
  • Secondary Education Teachers.
  • Healthcare Professionals.
  • Physicians.

Who needs H-1B visa? ›

The H-1B program applies to employers seeking to hire nonimmigrant aliens as workers in specialty occupations or as fashion models of distinguished merit and ability.

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