Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who Is the Unfairest of Them All?

An H-1B question

By David North on August 5, 2022

While it is well known that the H-1B program, for skilled foreign workers, takes hundreds of thousands of jobs from citizens and green card holders and tends to reduce wage levels where it is present, another negative aspect of it is less well known—its prejudice against women.

One of the more obscure accomplishments of the Trump administration was that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services decided to collect data on the gender of H-1B workers. That was a highly appropriate and long-overdue move and it came about in an unusual way. A former senate staffer, then in another agency, consistently pressed for transparency on this issue.

Since that information is available for the top countries of birth of H-1B visa holders for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, we now have the answer to the question of inequity: Percentage-wise it was Pakistan by a hair over India, in both years.

Pakistan and India, adjacent nations once both part of the British Raj, are both on the list of the top-10 countries of origin of H-1Bs; in FY 2020, 80 percent of the Pakistani H-1Bs were males, with India recording 79 percent; in the following year it was Pakistan, 78 percent, and India, 77 percent. 

The numerical significance of this inequity is quite different. In FY 2021, there were 301,616 approved H-1B beneficiaries from India and only 1,880 from Pakistan. The numbers for the prior year were about the same.

I do not have a sense of who made the relative handful of hiring decisions regarding the Pakistanis, but do know that hiring decisions for the Indians were largely made by individuals and corporations with ties to South India. As a result, H-1B employment decisions, as noted earlier, strongly favor not only Indians over everyone else, but more narrowly, they tilt toward young males from the south of the country, preferably those from the upper and middle castes of that region.

If you are the “wrong” kind of Indian, either a woman, an older male, or a member of one of the lower castes, the pro-Indian bias in H-1B hiring does you little good.

The full list of the top-10 nations in H-1B hiring in FY 2021 is very much like the list for the prior year, with Nepal (adjacent to India) shouldering out the United Kingdom that year for tenth place. China is the only large supplier of H-1B labor with a high percentage (46 percent) of women. Further down the list, in terms of volume, is the Philippines, with a majority (58 percent) of women among the H-1B visa holders. Some nurses and school teachersjobs predominately done by womenare among that nation’s foreign workers.

Top-10 Countries of Birth of
Approved H-1B Beneficiaries, FY 2021

Rank Country Number Percent of
All H-1Bs
Percent Male
for Nation
1 India 301,616 74.10% 77%
2 China 50,328 12.40% 54%
3 Canada 3,836 0.90% 65%
4 South Korea 3,481 0.90% 59%
5 Philippines 2,786 0.70% 42%
6 Mexico 2,611 0.60% 75%
7 Taiwan 2,604 0.60% 57%
8 Brazil 1,986 0.50% 65%
9 Pakistan 1,880 0.50% 78%
10 Nepal 1,584 0.40% 72%
  All Countries 407,071 100.00% 72%

Source: “Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers, FY 2021",
Department of Homeland Security, Figure 5.