Savinar Assesses Value of Recruiters for H1-B Visa Holders

By Griselda Jarquin – For H1-B visa holders, consulting firms are often crucial to securing employment in the U.S. But do the jobs offered by such firms lead to long-term integration and assimilation? And is the playing field level for immigrants of all nationalities? Robin Savinar, PhD candidate in sociology at UC Davis, addressed such questions in a talk entitled “The Labor Market Pathways of H-1B Workers,” hosted on January 19, 2017 by the Migration Research Cluster.

Created in 1990, the H-1B visa program was designed to fix labor shortages of skilled workers, particularly in information technology (IT). As such, consulting firms often sponsor skilled migrants for temporary IT positions. Among H-1B visa holders, Savinar asked, how do consulting firm jobs compare to jobs for which candidates are hired directly by the employer? Furthermore, how does one’s experience with a consulting firm affect subsequent long-term career outcomes?

Savinar began by outlining macro-structural shifts—globalization, price competition, weak government regulations, a neoliberal ideological shift—which, beginning in the 1980s, radically altered the labor market. The result was an increase in precarious forms of employment—temporary, seasonal, part-time, or contractual forms of employment that are often described as inferior to regular, full-time positions.

As firms switched from long-term positions to contractual, project-based jobs, labor market intermediaries emerged, Savinar said, to connect H-1B visa holders to precarious jobs. Outlining the contours of the H-1B visa program, Savinar also emphasized how the H-1B visa becomes invalid once the worker’s relationship with the employer ends, suggesting the disproportionate amount of power in the employer’s hands, as well as the worker’s vulnerability to exploitation. 

Long-term effects of short-term work

Using the results of an online survey data that she conducted from January to September 2016, Savinar compared the quality of consulting jobs with jobs where H-1B visa holders were directly hired by their employer. She also investigated how early consulting experience coupled with one’s immigrant status at the time of entry affected employment outcomes over time.

Overall, her hypothesis—that consulting jobs are of lesser quality than direct-hire jobs—proved to be true. Employment gained through a consulting firm was associated with a lower income, less job security, and a lower likelihood of securing permanent legal status. That said, Savinar also discovered that early consulting firm experience did not have a lasting effect on wages, immigrant status, or job prospects. Thus, consulting firm jobs do not hold a stigma for skilled migrant’s professional careers, nor are they an indicator of one’s future success.

Foot in the door

For Indian nationals, however—a group that makes up 70 percent of all H-1B visa holders—a different picture emerges. Savinar suggested that Indian nationals may be more likely to take consulting firm jobs because several IT consulting firms are headquartered in India. Additionally, considering that Indian nationals experience some of the longest wait times (9-12 years) to achieve permanent resident status, some may choose consulting firm positions to get a “foot in the door.”

Savinar hypothesized that some Indian nationals then use their immigrant community networks to change employment. However, if Indian nationals remain in consulting firm jobs for more than four years, Savinar’s results demonstrate that they experience more difficulty transitioning to long-term employment.

Meanwhile, for immigrants of other nationalities, moving away from consulting firms is harder in the early years. But it is easier for them to secure long term employment within four years. Savinar credits this to the fact that other nationals don’t have to wait so long to become permanent residents, which increases their bargaining power as well as their ability to move freely within the labor market.

Learn more about Robin Savinar.