Highly skilled foreign workers are still flowing into the US — and in some cities, they make more than $100,000 yearly

Facebook’s campus in California. Business Insider/Julie Bort
  • H-1B visas are highly concentrated on the East Coast and in Texas, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis. The H-1B visa program provides visas to highly skilled foreign workers.
  • Nationwide, workers with H-1B visas earned a yearly salary of $US80,600 on average from 2010 to 2016. In some cities, they made more than $US100,000 a year on average.
  • The visa program could shrink under the Trump administration. Thousands of companies are expected to submit applications this April.

This year, President Donald Trump says his administration will tighten rules on the H-1B program, which grants visas to highly skilled foreign workers in the US.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency issued a new policy memo in February that requires companies to submit “detailed statements of work or work orders” that a H-1B visa worker would perform. The policy change came after the Trump administration outlined its “Buy American, Hire American” policy in an executive order signed last April.

But Trump hasn’t altered the program yet.

American companies in a variety of sectors – including tech, chemistry, architecture, journalism, and medicine – use the visas to hire highly-skilled foreign workers. Proponents of the H-1B program say the visa is useful in cases when there’s a short supply of US talent. Critics argue that the program allows companies to pay lower salaries, adding competition for American workers.

A new report from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center analyses where highly skilled foreign workers concentrate, and how much they earn on average in the US.

From 2010 to 2016, 247,900 H-1B visa approvals – 29% of the national total – went to employers in the New York City metro area. The Dallas, Texas and Washington, DC metro areas (74,000 and 64,800 approvals, respectively) had the next-highest totals. Companies in College Station-Bryan, Texas were granted the most H-1Bs per 100 workers: 31.8 visas.

Nationwide, workers with H-1B visas earned a yearly salary of $US80,600 on average from 2010 to 2016.

Bridgeport, Connecticut, had the highest average salary ($US100,200) of any metro area, followed by Seattle, Washington ($US98,100) and Phoenix, Arizona ($US97,100). Employees with H-1B visas in Charlottesville, Virginia earned the lowest average salaries out of any metro area ($US49,500).

Since these figures are averages, it’s safe to say that a number of highly skilled foreign workers are making six-figure salaries in certain cities. At the same time, $US100,000 is a low paycheck for many of the types of jobs these employees might be doing – especially those working in fields like tech and medicine. Quartz reported earlier this year that the average tech salary in the San Francisco Bay Area is $US142,000, while Pew says that the average salary for Bay Area workers with H-1B visas is much less: $US90,500.

As Pew researchers Neil Ruiz and Jens Manuel Krogstad note, demand for H-1B visas – part of the the largest temporary employment visa program in the US – has boomed in recent years.

This April, companies across the US will file thousands of H-1B visa applications, and many of them are expected to come from firms in the technology and finance sectors.

The visas are good for three years and then renewable for another three-year term. But the program could get smaller with the Trump administration’s new requirements.