Consulting firms rival tech companies in battle for H-1B visa talent

08 June 2018 4 min. read

IT consultancies and tech giants are securing top global talent with the highest number of successful H-1B visa applications. Changing client demands in the digital domain, however, have given tech firms the edge over consultancies, as competition for the 85,000 visas allocated each year heats up.

For the second consecutive year Cognizant Technology Solutions won more of the coveted H-1B visas issued by the US government than any other private company. The leading IT consultancy was furnished with significantly more visas to fill highly-skilled positions than Silicon Valley tech titans Amazon and Google.

Tech companies do, however, dominate the rankings for successful visa applications, joined in the top 20 by leading IT consultancies and professional services firms. Consulting firms with IT and digital transformation offerings perform especially well in the new analysis issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

H-1B visas are reserved for highly-skilled migrants who are typically in possession of an advanced STEM education. The federal government awards 85,000 H-1B visas each year to companies, a level it has maintained since 1990 and which equates to roughly 0.05% of the vast US labor force. In April 2018 the USCIS announced that it had received 190,000 applications for the 2019 financial year, a slight drop on the 199,000 reviewed for 2018.

Top 30 Employers

Cognizant tops the table of successful visa petitions, while Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is in third place and Tech Mahindra in fourth. Infosys Ltd and Wipro Ltd were ranked 8th and 10th respectively. Capgemini and Accenture cracked the top 20, joined by professional services giants Deloitte, PwC, and EY. Another major IT consultancy – Synechron – was, in 28th place, ranked higher than Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

Detailed analysis of the USCIC data comes courtesy of the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), which expressed concern in its April 2018 report that the annual cap on visas is stunting US competitiveness in the STEM field. “The world has changed since 1990,” the report authors note, “and those changes, specifically the World Wide Web, smartphones, mobile applications, and social media, have dramatically increased the demand for high-skilled technical labor.”

Although IT consultancies ranked highly for visas granted for the 2017 fiscal year, the NFAP report suggests that tech firms – Apple, Google, Microsoft and others – are in the ascendancy. The number of approved petitions for Cognizant was 3,194 – higher than any other firm but still a substantial 25% drop on 2016. Infosys and Wipro saw respective drops in the number of successful petitions of 57% and 61% between 2015 and 2017. Tata Consulting Services secured 4,674 visas in 2015 and just 2,312 last year.

NFAP attributes the lower success rate of IT consultancies –particularly Indian firms – to changes in client demand, the broader digital landscape, and growing pressure to ‘hire American’.

“The decline in H-1B visas for Indian-based companies is due to industry trends toward digital services such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence, which require fewer workers, and a choice by companies to rely less on visas and to build up their domestic workforces in America.

“Corporate clients of both U.S. and Indian-based IT services companies are requesting digital engineering and more sophisticated services, including better data analysis, that require fewer workers and more advanced technology, and this is reflected in the H-1B visa numbers.”

Approved petitions for leading tech companies

By contrast the petition approval rate for Amazon soared by 78% from 1,099 in the 2016 FY to 2,515 in 2017. Similarly impressive gains were made by Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, Apple and Google. The NFAP analysis noted a broad correlation between spending on Research & Development (R&D) and the number of successful H-1B visa applications made by private companies.

As noted above, NFAP’s chief concern is the tight restriction on the total volume of H-1B visas, rather than the details of their allocation. The non-profit organization concludes its analysis by calling for the upper limit on H-1B visas to be increased and per country limits to be removed, specifically to enhance the access of US companies and universities to the enormous pool of tech talent in India.