Hoping to equate the H-1B temporary foreign worker program with permanent immigration, advocates often lump the H-1B visa together with lawful permanent residence (also known as "green card" status). But the H-1B is a temporary, nonimmigrant visa for guestworkers, not a permanent immigration status that would eventually put a migrant worker on a path to American citizenship.
The H-1B program can serve as a bridge to permanent immigration for many educated and skilled foreign workers; in fact, between 2010 and 2014, an average of 44,000 H-1B guestworkers became immigrants (i.e., lawful permanent residents) each year. The U.S. government approved an annual average of 115,000 new H-1B guestworkers over that same timeframe. The H-1B path to a green card is controlled by the employer. The employer—not the H-1B worker—has the discretion of applying for a green card, and as a result, employers hold a lot of power over the hundreds of thousands of H-1B workers here.
The first step an employer must take to put an H-1B nonimmigrant worker on the path to a green card is to file for permanent labor certification with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), to check if there are any U.S. workers available to fill the job that the H-1B worker is already doing. (These are sometimes referred to as "PERM" applications or the PERM process, which stands for Program Electronic Review Management, the name of the electronic system used by the DOL.) Public data are available showing which companies applied for permanent labor certification for their H-1B workers and for how many, and these data let us examine whether employers typically use the H-1B program as a bridge to permanent immigration—or not. As the table below shows, the top employers received large numbers of new H-1B workers in fiscal 2014 but applied for very few green cards for their H-1B workers.
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