Philly firms rank top 3 in the U.S. for skilled foreign labor requests

Despite President Trump's anti-immigrant message, Philadelphia firms rank top 3 in the U.S. for skilled foreign labor requests.

Employers based in Philadelphia made more requests for skilled foreign workers under the U.S. government’s H-1B program than in most other cities last year. Only New York and Houston offices asked for more, Labor Department records show.

Most Philly-based applications were filed by Deloitte Consulting, one of a handful of multinational firms that use H-1B to bring in overseas programmers and engineers for its many clients in corporate America.

Hundreds more local employers, from Comcast and Penn down to yoga studios and preschools, have also received government approval to bring in foreigners – and not always for tech or scientific jobs, according to a review of visa applications that my colleague Dylan Purcell and I ran last week.

The government issues just 85,000 H-1B visas a year – a small part of the total U.S. workforce. But the program accounts for a significant concentration of U.S. software developers and tech hires.

Last year, the government received several employer applications for each visa. But President Trump has questioned the need for importing skilled labor at all.

"Too many American workers who are as qualified, willing, and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged," complained the federal Citizenship and Immigration Services last week, in introducing stricter guidelines.

More than 29,000 applications for H-1B visas poured in last year from Philadelphia employers – the third most after New York (60,000 ) and Houston (30,000), and more than any tech-heavy West Coast city, home to such firms as Microsoft, Apple, and Google that want immigration rules eased.     

Not all of the applications were certified; and not all those certified got visas, notes Labor Department spokesman Egan Reich. Many applicants certified for Philadelphia-based employers – the majority, in Deloitte’s case – were assigned to projects outside the city.

UPDATE 4/10: "Our primary focus is hiring U.S. workers – thousands this fiscal year, including experienced Pennsylvania professionals and graduates educated" at Pennsylvania colleges, Deloitte spokesman Jonathan Gandal told me.  "Our use of U.S. visas -- in strict compliance with Federal regulations -- complements our domestic workforce with highly-skilled professionals to meet the needs of our business." END UPDATE

Other major skilled-labor importers include the University of Pennsylvania, the city’s largest private employer with more than 30,000 workers, which applied for 383 foreigners under H-1B last year, most based in West Philadelphia. Most were “academic and research positions,” with about 9 percent in information technology, spokesman Ron Ozio said.

Comcast, based in Center City, won 281 approvals for foreign staff, including 125 for jobs in the city, all for engineering and technology.  

That 125 might not sound like much, given Comcast's 8,000 city employees. But if Comcast’s jobs turn over at 12 percent a year, the visas account for an important part of its hiring, especially in tech. Spokesman John Demming declined comment.

Other employers seeking 100 or more foreign employees include Temple and Jefferson, whose hiring profiles are similar to Penn's. Jefferson vice president Janice Bogen said in a statement that among its 23,000 employees doing patient care, research, and education, its 100 H-1B doctors and researchers "fill very specialized positions."

Also high on the list were IT outsourcing outfits that compete with the likes of Deloitte, including Infosys and Accenture, and smaller firms that also shuttle software people between the United States and Asia.   

A few imported positions are highly paid. The government certified Deloitte to import two principals for its management-analysts group, at $650,000 a year, plus two directors earning $600,000, a director of audit quality at $548,000, and two managing directors of computer businesses at $404,000 each. 

Comcast got certification to import a vice president for technical R&D at $287,000. A Pepper Hamilton associate ("Level 4") was certified at $265,000, Aberdeen Asset Management got thumbs-up for a head of global banks at $230,000. And four Penn professors, including a department chair, got certified at around $220,000 each.  

The Albert Einstein medical group was certified to import an interventional gastroenterologist at $375,000 a year, two cardiologists at $275,000, and two anesthesiologists at $265,000 each.

All of these offers were far above what the Labor Department called the “prevailing wage rate” for those occupations.

But three-quarters of the certified imports – many are software developers, analysts, and technicians – are to be paid under $100,000, little or nothing above "prevailing wages."  

Squads of Deloitte & Touche audit assistants, Comcast quality and testing engineers, Urban Outfitters designers, Temple assistant professors (including chemists and physicists), and Penn bio lab technicians were imported on visas at pay below $50,000. Two visas for foreign yoga instructors were approved for a Center City yoga studio at $38,000 a year, along with a teacher at a South Philly parochial school at $35,000 - all "prevailing wages."  

Some workers were brought in at hourly, not yearly, rates. One software contractor was certified to bring in software developers in the $50 to $60/hour range. A South Philly day-care center got approval to bring in two foreign “preschool lead teachers” at $13 and $16 an hour.   

In the suburbs, Vanguard Group was approved for at least seven technology workers, including four software engineers, each paid between $100,000 and $120,000.

The government is toughening up. New guidelines state that a computer programmer, to be considered, "generally" should have a full college degree – which wasn't needed under the old guidelines, written in 2001.

(The story has been updated to include comment from Deloitte, which the company only provided, in response to earlier inquiries, after the story ran.)