Chinese national, Zhengsu Gao is an electrical and computer engineer, educated in the United States, and now working for LHP Software in Columbus, Indiana under a H1B visa. The H1B Visa, or work visa, is a tool employers use to hire and retain specialized employees, such as engineers and architects. Cummins, Inc., and LHP Software have helped power Columbus to the second-highest per-capita H1B application rate in the nation. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Fresh out of Clemson University with a masters degree in Mechanical engineering, Raj Patil, left, poses with LHP Software company lawyer George Devidze in LHP's training facility in downtown Columbus. Patil has just begun work at LHP Software under the Optional Practical Training program (OPT), and Devidze, from Georgia, of the old Soviet Union, just became a U.S. citizen in 2011, 17 years after working through OPT himself and a procession of H1B visas. OPT is the first step that allows some specialized, highly educated individuals to work in their specific fields in this country after graduation. The H1B Visa, or work visa, is a tool employers use to hire and retain specialized employees, such as engineers and architects. Cummins, Inc., and LHP Software have led the way in powering Columbus to the second-highest per-capita H1B application rate in the nation. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Columbus employers hire high-skilled immigrant workers at a faster rate than all but one metro area in the nation.
Columbus employers in the past two years requested 629 H-1B immigrant worker visas, or 14.6 per 1,000 workers. Only San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., requested high-skilled immigrant workers at a faster rate, 17.1 per 1,000 workers.
No other metro’s rate exceeds 10, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution.
H-1B visas allow non-immigrants to work for three years in the Department of Defense, in specialty occupations or as fashion models. The visa can be extended once for another three-year term.
Competition for the visas is fierce: In the latest round, U.S. employers gobbled up all the available visas within 10 weeks.
Cummins Inc. and LHP account for the majority of the visa requests in Columbus.
Representatives of both companies said that even including the foreign workers, they cannot find enough qualified employees to support their global growth.
In the most recent allotment, Cummins obtained 300 H-1B visas, including about 210 for southern Indiana.
“There’s just not enough U.S.-born talent to satisfy the demand in the labor market,” said Lorrie Meyer, Cummins’ executive director of global talent management.
At U.S. universities, about half of the graduates with science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs are foreign-born. Companies such as Cummins that hire the best and brightest talent cannot afford to eliminate immediately half of the graduates as potential employees.
“It’s very important to us,” Meyer said.
She said Cummins also wants a diversified workforce that reflects its customer and supplier base, in part because international students bring different experiences and language skills to the company.
Meyer said the company also frequently brings international students to Columbus for a few years to familiarize them with the company culture and expectations before sending them across the globe for international assignments with Cummins. Some U.S.-born employees might be less inclined to accept assignments overseas.
Janet Williams, spokeswoman for Cummins, said Cummins’ experience in the past few years has shown that overseas growth creates more jobs at home.
Since 2005, Cummins’ workforce has increased about 30 percent worldwide, she said. During the same span, the workforce in Indiana has increased by 41 percent.
“The more competitive Cummins can be ... the better able we are to add jobs at home,” she said.
To remain competitive, Cummins must hire the best talent. And talent is not found in a particular nationality, Cummins leaders have said.
George Devidze, in-house counsel for LHP Software, knows the dynamics first-hand. A native of Georgia, the former Soviet republic, Devidze arrived in the U.S. in 1994 on a student visa. He earned his law degree from Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, remained in the U.S. on an H-1B visa, got a green card and, through his marriage to an American, became a U.S. citizen last year over the July Fourth weekend.
Devidze said the company is struggling to hire engineers despite aggressive recruitment efforts.
“It’s a big issue for us (because it’s) a major constraint in our growth,” Devidze said.
The company has about 90 openings.
“If we could find 80 or 90 qualified people, we’d hire all of them,” he said.
For the most recent fiscal year, the company obtained 80 visas, Devidze said. Nearly all of LHP’s visas go to international students who are graduating from U.S. colleges.
The employees’ nationality makes no difference, he said — though hiring international employees costs more.
Sponsoring a foreign worker costs the company nearly $2,500 per visa, Devidze said. For 80 visas, that means a bill of about $200,000.
Zhengsu Gao, a native of Xi’an, China, joined LHP in 2008. He said living on an H-1B visa is difficult, in part because a job loss would invalidate the visa, meaning he would have to move back to China immediately. That would mean moving his wife, Suma Gu, and his 3-year-old, U.S. born daughter, Yunqi Gao.
Raj Patil, a native of Kolharpur, India, joined LHP last month after graduating from Clemson with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
He’s working with LHP under a program that allows some foreign-born graduates of U.S. colleges to remain in the United States for a year to work in their field.
Patil hopes LHP will be able to obtain an H-1B visa for him to allow him to remain longer.
“I like the city,” he said. “It has everything I need. And the most important part is the job.”
Nonetheless, he said, a level of unease remains with his immigration status.
“We certainly have that uncertainty,” he said.
But with a highly sought-after degree, finding a job in India won’t be difficult, he said.
“India right now has a booming market,” he said.
Cummins and LHP support increasing the number of visas for highly skilled workers.
Devidze said immigration rules for highly skilled workers should be relaxed.
Devidze said it makes little sense to let foreigners go back home after they have received a great education at a U.S. university.
He asked, why let them take their expertise back to China, India or Brazil to work for — or even launch — competitors to U.S. companies?
Gao, who has master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering, just applied for an extension to his H-1B visa. At the same time, he has applied for a permanent work permit. However, Devidze said, with current regulations, he did not expect that application to be approved for another seven years. That will leave Gao and his family in immigration limbo and might result in the family moving back home or to another country with a more lenient immigration policy.
It makes no sense, Devidze said, to make it difficult for U.S. companies to retain highly skilled employees. Those employees gain valuable experience and expertise at the expense of U.S. companies, he said, and then, because of immigration policies, take that expertise elsewhere.
In raw numbers, Columbus ranked 62nd in H-1B visa requests.
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