The H1B visa is such a big deal for the Indian expatriate community in Silicon Valley that immigration lawyer Madhuri Nemali has been able to build her business around it. Nemali says over half of her clients are Indian nationals struggling with some aspect of the visa program.

The H1B is a temporary work permit that’s intended for those with highly specialized skills, like computer engineering. Workers from India receive far more H1Bs than people from any other country — some years, nearly 10 times as many as workers from China, who are second on the list.

Hundreds of thousands of Indian expats hold H1B visas. Many live in Silicon Valley, and many feel the H1B program has major problems no one is addressing.

Nemali says clients come to her office in San Jose with all kinds of H1B issues. Many have trouble getting one. Some who hold the visa are being taken advantage of by their employers. Others have put down roots but now can’t get a green card, which is proof of permanent residency. The H1B visa affects the whole Indian community, Nemali says.

Madhuri Nemali says over half her clients are Indians struggling with H1B visas
Madhuri Nemali says over half her clients are Indians struggling with H1B visas (Madhuri Nemali)

“It’s kind of one of those solidarity things,” Nemali says. “You’re either going through it personally, or you know someone who is going through it.”

There is so much discontent about the visa that some Indians on H1Bs, like Avinash Conda, are trying to change the system.

Conda is a marketing manager. He says that, unlike with most people, the visa has worked well for him. He came from India, finished graduate school in Kentucky and got an H1B to work at a small tech company. Now his current employer is sponsoring him for a green card.

“I wish my story wasn’t an anomaly,” Conda says. “I wish everyone had the path as easy as I had it.”

First, Conda says, H1Bs are hard to get. There’s a lottery, and sometimes just one of every three or four applicants succeeds. If you do get one, you are then dependent on an employer for sponsorship. Companies have been sued for abusing this leverage, doing illegal things like forcing employees to pay thousands in visa fees, or making them sign bondage contracts so they cannot quit without paying a bunch of cash.

“It’s modern-day slavery, more or less,” Conda says.

Conda concedes that’s a bit of an overstatement. But he says it should be easier for H1B workers to become permanent residents so that they have more power in the workplace. He is writing to legislators and organizing with other foreign workers who he says are overlooked by politicians.

“None of the H1Bs are voters,” Conda says. “We’re hardly heard because we don’t matter at this point.”

One of the biggest advocates in the Indian community for overhauling the H1B visa is not a worker, but a tech businessman — Neeraj Gupta.

Like Conda, Gupta was also on an H1B once. He says worker abuse is the result of a bigger problem: The visa is no longer being used just to get top talent, but instead to outsource jobs.

“As you delve deeper into the data,” Gupta says, “it’s quite clear that a large majority of the use of the program is directed toward the outsourcing industry.”

Here is how the outsourcing works: Gupta says about 80 percent of H1B visas go to low-level IT workers at contracting companies you have probably never heard of, firms like Wipro and Infosys. This makes it harder for higher-skilled workers like Avinash Conda to win the H1B lottery.

Meanwhile, Gupta says American businesses lay off employees and hand over the work to IT contractors. Last year, Disney and Southern California Edison were in the news for replacing long-term employees with H1Bs.

Gupta saw the tactic in action as an executive for a big outsourcing firm.

“I remember sitting in Washington, D.C., in 2008 with a proposal that was going to outsource 300 jobs,” he says.

The tech industry has lobbied aggressively for more H1Bs, saying there is not enough talent in the United States to fill jobs. Gupta doesn’t buy it. The outsourcing made him so queasy he founded his own IT staffing company, one that “in-sourced” — hired Americans and immigrants who had put down roots here.

“I believe there is an underutilized workforce here in the U.S.,” Gupta says, “Kids who could get much more meaningful jobs in the technology industry.”

Gupta has testified before Congress, where reform efforts have failed again and again. He does not think the H1B will be revamped anytime soon, especially considering that we’re in an election year.

Madhuri Nemali is meeting with another client, a young college grad who needs an H1B to stay in the country. Nemali explains that there are not many options if she does not win the H1B lottery. The woman is sitting with her boyfriend, taking notes, writing down the important dates and key numbers. She cannot believe her fate is up to a random lottery.

Nemali says it makes sense that Indians are the ones speaking up about the H1B. More than anyone, they are experiencing the problems connected to this visa. Indians are on the frontlines Nemali says. It’s up to them to keep pushing for change.

Silicon Valley’s Indian Community Pushes to Reform H1B Visa Program 17 February,2016Sam Harnett

  • saimin

    Gotta be careful with this one. If immigrants push too hard on better wages and benefits for immigrants, then companies may just hire Americans instead. The shortage of American workers is a myth; the real shortage is Americans who will work for H1B wages (like the American Disney and Edison workers who were fired so the companies could hire cheaper immigrant labor). And remember that Donald Trump is making anti-immigration a big issue and H1B holders have no say in the coming election.

    Also – is there an error in this article about a lottery for H1B visas? I thought the lottery was for H1B holders who want to get out of the visa via permanent residency (green card). Instead of getting rid of H1B visas altogether, which is what I believe the article advocates, how about banning the job shops that scam the system? The article names Wipro and Infosys, which are 2 of the biggest, but there are many many others. Instead, force the real employers (Google, Apple, etc.) to hire the H1B employees directly instead of through the job shops which leach both money and rights from the employees.

    • Madhuri Nemali

      Re. the lottery – for people who never held H-1B status before, they have to apply for one from the limited pool of H-1B visas available every year. Because there are more applicants (233,000 last year) than there are visas available (85,000 adding general and US student quotas together), USCIS institutes a lottery to determine which applications are selected for review. Anybody who qualifies is able to apply for a green card. The issue there is that because there are only so many green cards available a year, there is a years long wait to actually get your green card for applicants from certain countries.

      • Edmond Wu

        Too many people in India are desperate to come to the USA. IMO we already allow too many to enter the USA and should increase the number of restrictions on them. The Indian Community will never be satisfied, they want the USA to open their doors and turn over all their jobs to it’s citizens. For them it will never be enough – they will keep asking for more.

        • Ram

          Wu – nobody is interested man. You must be from China or Vietnam. Its just that guys come for higher studies and stick around if they want. Nothing else…We have a big country and want to stay there only..

      • maraba3

        Totally disagree. No way should the number of visas or GCs be increased for any particular group. The result can have dangerous and unexpected consequences on the country. The economy is no longer like the 2000s and every decision has to made very carefully, with first preference being the American worker

        • Ram

          when did you come to this country ? Might have been a migrant right. Dont worry too much..You are not going to take this country where ever you go ? So dont worry dear.

          • maraba3

            I have no idea what you saying.. But the point is this: if the country removes the quotas/per country, suddenly there will be huge influx of Indians/Chinese mainly and there will be no balance… The character of the country can change quite dramatically, and quite undesirably. The per country quota is PERFECT to keep the influx in check. Also, if the economy worsens,we dont want a huge influx from India/China to continue, which will happen because they will continue to stream en masse regardless.

          • Ram

            but they should stop the H1B and not stop at Green card level. Stop at H1B level itself. Stop green card lottery systems. There are many rubbish systems like this

          • maraba3

            Exactly what I said! H-1B cannot BE more than 6 years – no matter what! Minimum pay for H-1B has to be high,,,

      • Kumar Sreenivas Pandruvada

        Do you know Americans are fired to hire H1B through TCS and Indian Companies?

  • rlawson

    Best solution is two-fold.

    First full portability so workers can change jobs and start businesses.

    Second is to award based on salary, with the highest paid given preference. The body shops will either pay more or they will be cut out.

    We cannot have a program that borders on indentured servitude. That is un-American.

    We cannot have a program that helps displace American workers and is a race to the bottom. That too is un-American.

    Glad to see Indian workers standing up for what is right. If you really want a future for yourself and your family in this country, not just a gig, you should care about this program harming Americans. Especially if your goal is to become an American citizen or permanent resident.

    • noh1bvisas

      the best solution is to abolish the h1b visa program and send all these job thiefs home.

    • Kurt thialfad

      Indentured servitude and slavery has been a major part of our history, and have been essential to the progress of our society. That is very American.

      • rlawson

        We abolished slavery over 150 years ago. We fought a bloody civil war with that being a catalyst. So I would say that if slavery was an American it isn’t any more. Our value system has evolved.

    • n6532l

      The best solution is end the H-1B and let free market capitalism sort out any shortage the same way free markets sort out shortages of everything else. It worked very well before the H-1B was invented and will work very well without the H-1B ends.

  • Amanda Sung

    End the H-1B program, this program is based on corporate greed and lowering the prevailing wage across the entire STEM industry. Many college students are worried about going into STEM fields because companies try to flood the market with low paid workers from India. We should at the very least limit the number of H-1B visas given to people from India to 1/10th of what they are now, so that the number of H-1B visas given to Indians are the same as Chinese. It’s ridiculous that Indians take 10 times the number of H-1B visas than do Chinese and still that is not enough. We need to shut down this greed immediately, put restrictions on these guests and show them that they have no rights here because this is not their country. These rude, demanding Indians are ridiculous, have worn out their welcome and need to be put in their place.

    • maraba3

      I was almost agreeing with you, till you started talking about “rude” Indians and targeting Indians.. Ironical and comical that Chinese are targeting Indians on the basis of etiquette! As if Chinese are examples of politeness and correctness… The same amount of fraud goes on by Chinese too! Chinese students are far more than Indians – many of then come on fake certificates, made up scores etc.

    • Zack Murphy

      I completely agree. Having worked in the IT recruiting business myself. There is so much proof of people losing their current jobs to H-1b workers. Who are then turned into slave workers for the company that hired them. They basically get them to work them for 100+ hours a week for a couple of years, send them packing back home, and then do the same thing again. All while paying them almost next to nothing compared to what they should be paid. The whole H-1B program as a whole, and V1 needs to go too.

    • chillycat

      Amanda Sung is trolling. And Sung is not a Chinese last name. Please do not take the bait.

  • Kumar Sreenivas Pandruvada

    All Indian Attorney hold I-140 copy of H1B employees in USA. How come Attorneys speaking about reforms in USA? Is it not a joke?

  • maraba3

    The original intent of the program was to bring the “best and brightest” only, and to fill gaps in the American labor. Also, the H-1B visa was strictly meant to be 6 years without any chance of extensions or transfers etc. Both rules have been badly broken and abused. It is no longer about the best and brightest, when you see hundreds of people coming as consultants who are novices replacing experienced Americans!! We have seen it so many times now… The myth of “STEM crisis’ was propagated by the rich and politicians to bring hundreds of people.There is NO SHORTAGE whatsoever. Also, the 6-year visa limit has been effectively removed by extensions and nonsense like that. The result has been massive increase in the H-1B population which even the DHS does not have an handle!! It is estimated more than a million now! Many side effects have also resulted: Americans who are most creative people are now falling behind because Asians dominate them through studying hard, but not creativity (both Indians and Chinese)… America grew because of their creativity and ingenuity and that must be preserved! In addition, the age discrimination has grown massively.

    Only solution, keep the hard limit of 6-years H-1B, make H-1B minimum salary at least 120,000, increase fees. DO NOT INCREASE GC quota for any group.

    • Actually, the H-1B was meant to be a 3 year visa with no “dual-intent” (citizenship) provisions and no extensions. The non-immigrant was required to maintain a residence abroad to prove that they were not intending to permanently migrate.

    • n6532l

      No, the H-1B was invented for the sole purpose of providing cheap labor with which to replace Americans. The “best and the brightest” come here on O-1 visas and there is no limit on how many can come. The “fill the gap” was part of the propaganda to get it passed Congress but no such language ever made it into the actual law. The sole protection actually in the law is the annual cap which is under attack. The six year limit always had loopholes in it.

      • maraba3

        Well, you cant argue that many very good people came on H-1B too initially (and even now) and really helped the economy., It was in the late 90s that the H-1B abuse began (remember, the Y2K scam) when companies realized the other “advantages”: of this visa. Your premise that it only brought in cheap labor is false. Once companies realized that they can cut costs using this visa system, they went full throttle.

        • n6532l

          I have worked with H-1Bs and never encountered a single one I would consider “very good people” rather they have been less capable than Americans.

          The cheap labor premise is correct. The abuse was embedded in the law from the start. First, consider some statements from those involved in getting it passed. Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) remarked,

          “Once it’s clear (the visa bill) is going to get through, everybody signs up so nobody can be in the position of being accused of being against high tech. There were, in fact, a whole lot of folks against it, but because they are tapping the high-tech community for campaign contributions, they don’t want to admit that in public.”

          Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), said,

          “This is not a popular bill with the public. It’s popular with the CEOs…This is a very important issue for the high-tech executives who give the money.”

          Second, consider the economics of the H-1B law as written. In 1776 Adam Smith in his “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” said

          “Whenever the law has attempted to regulate the wages of workmen, it has always been rather to lower them than to raise them.”

          The H-1B law regulates low wages with the prevailing wage requirement. If, as is claimed, a skill set is in short supply then in a free market that skill set should command a premium wage not a prevailing or average wage. Yet the employer gets the H-1B on the cheap paying not a premium wage but the lower average wage. This led Nobel laurate Milton Friedman to say

          “There is no doubt, that the [H-1B] program is a benefit to their employers, enabling them to get workers at a lower wage, and to that extent, it is a subsidy.”

          Finally, consider this excerpt from a National Science Foundation report from the mid-1980s promoting what became the H-1B as a vehicle to reduce the wages of PhDs.

          “A growing influx of foreign PhDs into U.S. labor markets will hold down the level of PhD salaries to the extent that foreign students are attracted to U.S. doctoral programs as a way of immigrating to the U.S.A. A related point is that for this group the PhD salary premium is much higher [than it is for Americans], because it is based on BS-level pay in students’ home nations versus PhD-level pay in the U.S.A. .. [If] doctoral studies are failing to appeal to a large (or growing) percentage of the best citizen baccalaureates, then a key issue is pay… A number of [the Americans] will select alternative career paths… For these baccalaureates, the effective premium for acquiring a PhD may actually be negative.”

          How true. For an American getting a PhD in computer science will result in total lifetime earnings being below what his classmates with only a BS earns. Because of a large influx of foreign PhDs the wage premium from a PhD will not make up for the wages lost in getting it.

          The H-1B is all about cheap labor. The “best and the brightest” can come here on O-1 visas which have no cap. But you do have to demonstrate that they are indeed the best and the brightest. There is no such requirement for the H-1B.

          • maraba3

            First, the H-1B abuse is real and has affected many lives. Second, your comment that you have not met a single “very good H-1B” means one of two things: a) you work in an area which does not require smart people, b) you don’t judge people well, are biased or just dont know what you are talking. I have worked with brilliant American-born tech people and brilliant H-1Bs. A professor of mine from India obviously first on H-1B and then onto GC is one of the foremost researchers, I argue that IT itself is not an area for the “best and brightest”, and hence does not require any H-1B at all.

  • One of the very real problems is that it costs nothing for sweat shops like Tata and Infosys to flood the market with tens of thousands of applications. Applications that are not accepted for the lottery cut-off (the majority) are currently returned unopened. These applications should be opened and the checks cashed. 10,000 applications at roughly $1800.00 each, would cost $18,000,000.00. Flooding the market with applications would be an expensive proposition and we would get a real picture of actual demand from employers who are willing to risk a non-refundable $1800.00 on their candidate.

  • Kumar Sreenivas Pandruvada

    Behind the scene facts-Episode 6 H1B CAP a big feast for Indians
    Attorney get $1000 to $2000 per application hence they are the ones first break the USCIS laws, next is H1B Indian employers, next is H1B employees.

  • The H1B is not the problem. The problem is that of the 1 billion Indians 900 million want to come to the US.

    • Zack Murphy

      They need to find a better way to make a better life for themselves back at home first. First their own country, and then come to ours. India can be a beautiful place, and they need to work to make it even more so.

    • Ram

      No way…They would prefer UK or some European countries as its near to India…

  • jakeleone

    This article really hits the nail on the head. We really do need to get the Green Card process more into the hands of the workers and speed it up so that people are not waiting in excess of 10 years for a Green Card.

    And we need reserve the H-1b visa for companies that are actually trying to hire Americans and Green Card holders. Offshore Outsourcing companies, which will not hire Americans and Green card holders, should not have any access, what-so-ever, to the H-1b system.

    The Offshore Outsourcing companies can use the Free Labor market for their workers, hey why not give Capitalism a try for once?

    We can’t allow companies that destroy jobs and won’t hire americans access to a government program that infringes/takes-away the fundamental 13th amendment rights of people working in the United States.

    If Offshore Outsourcing companies were barred from the H-1b Federal, non-immigrant, visa program, we would never have seen a year, since inception, where we ran out of H-1b visas. Further, companies that actually are looking for workers without regard to ethnic origin, would be able to get access to the workers they need, and we wouldn’t even be talking about workers being trapped in a job without a long-term visa, they would already have one.

    If a company won’t hire Americans or Green Card holders and has as their fundamental business model the laying off of Americans (after they have trained their replacement), and the removal of entire departments (and all supporting position) overseas, they shouldn’t be using a Federal Government program that takes away fundamental worker rights to leave a job without repercussion (the 13th amendment rights that came at the cost of bloodiest war in U.S. history). Such companies can use the free market, like you supposed to in a Capitalist country.

  • noh1bvisas

    cry me a river. the h1b visa program destroys AMERICAN lives. go back to india.

  • Kumar Sreenivas Pandruvada

    The attorney in the disney case.
    Sara Blackwell.
    AMERICAN is the person, who trains Indian and sacrifices his/her life and moving from middle class to no class to become jobless and homeless. American is soft, ignorant to caste, h1b visa abuses etc. Hence 20 to 60 million Americans jobs are taken away by Indian outsourcing companies and Indian Inc’s.
    People argue it’s because of talent. They don’t know talent is for O visa but not h1b/h4 EAD/L1/L2/B1(though business, our guys come for work only) F1(for studies but not illegal jobs) etc.

  • maraba3

    The problem with this whole article is the assumptiont hat H-1B visa is somehow meant to be a way to immigrate to this country!! No! Only the best and brightest should make it and rest go back.. Why should there be reform to let more people in??? The only reform required to make sure it is stricly a temporary visa.

  • n6532l

    Not only do we lose jobs to these Indians but now we have to put up with their griping about how hard it is. On them.

    Both arrogance and Rude.

    Send them home.

    Vote Trump.

    • Ram

      you vote anyone.nobody cares…see these guys r waiting for 10 years to get a green card…can you wait for 10 minutes in a cinema hall to buy popcorn…dont just talk for the sake of it…

      • maraba3

        of course, it is very sad that they wait for 10 years,,, The point is this: if the law had been clear that people cannot stay on H-1B for more than 6 years, NO MATTER what happens, then this issue would not even have arisen, isn’t it? The H-1B was meant to be a temporary visa…..

  • julie

    Eliminate sweat shops, make the visa truly a visa for talent and not low level high skilled labor at cheap prices, and cheap benefits with longer hours.
    The visa should require a salary in the top quartile, or the very very least in the top half with benefit payments and company payroll tax for the visa in that same top quartile. No more favorable tax treatment for hiring foreigners

    • Kungaloosh

      Look at the Sara Blackwell video posted above. If only 25% of US IT graduates can find employment within the IT field, there is no need for the H1-B visa.

  • Fann Sha

    India people make India like a hell and they now come to america to make here like India.

  • ubernote

    Google’s new ceo who came from india is going to make a huge campus in india.

  • ying wang

    H1B is not the problem. Many many US Computer Engineering Degree holders from China, UK, Europe can not get the H1b and have to quit their current job, ONLY because Tata and Infosys flood with the applications from Indian.

    • maraba3

      Actually very good Computer Science grads from India who study here also cannot get H-1B. So dont make it seem as if all Indians come only on Tata and Infosys…tell the full story

  • C Law

    I think the whole H-B1 business has been a travesty for American workers. There are millions of Americans who could move into those positions if we invested in helping them get the qualifications and pay for college. This would be good for the American economy also. I just can’t believe we are still filling this supposed gap in expertise with workers from other countries instead of helping those here qualify to enter that workforce.

  • hoapres

    We should just write tech off and ship it all to India.
    The tech companies don’t want Americans and Americans don’t want the US to end up like the third world.
    Ship tech to India.

    • Kungaloosh

      Amen, Brother. All of you might want to have a look at YouTube, for a video with the following name: “Attorney Sara Blackwell: Stop H1-B Visa Abuse!”

      I hope Sara gets enough traction to start fighting H1-B abuse to make a decent career for herself on this one issue.

    • Kungaloosh


Sam Harnett

Sam Harnett is a reporter who covers tech and work at KQED. For the last five years he has been reporting on how technology and capitalism are changing the way we think about ourselves and what it means to work. He is the co-creator of The World According to Sound, a 90-second podcast that features different sounds and the stories behind them.

Before coming to KQED, Sam worked as an independent reporter who contributed regularly to The California Report, Marketplace, The World and NPR. In 2013, he launched a podcast called Driving With Strangers. In 2014, he was selected by the International Center for Journalists for a reporting fellowship in Japan, where he covered the legacy of the Fukushima disaster.

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