The Bay Area ranks behind only metropolitan New York in recruiting high-skilled workers from abroad, but it's not just Silicon Valley tech giants on the hunt for foreign labor, according to a new report.
Sure, a batch of familiar names -- Google, Apple, Yahoo, Oracle, eBay, Intel -- leads the pack of companies seeking to bring foreign tech workers to the Bay Area on temporary H-1B visas, but thousands of other local employers, big and small, are in the temporary foreign worker game.
"It's not just about the Bay Area, New York, Boston and Seattle. It's also not just about great-big companies," said Sean Randolph, president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, a business advocate. "These (visas) are being used by a lot of startups."
The report being released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution is the first to detail where in the country H-1B workers are sought, confirming conventional wisdom of the South Bay as an H-1B hub but also revealing surprises.
Silicon Valley ranks highest in what Brookings calls "H-1B intensity," with 17 foreign workers sought for every 1,000 people in the workforce.
Next on the H-1B per-capita list is more surprising: Columbus, Ind., home to engine-maker Cummins; Durham, N.C., where universities are the biggest H-1B seekers; and the area surrounding New Jersey's capital, Trenton, led in the foreign worker search by banks, drugmakers, IT outsourcers and the group at Princeton University that runs Graduate Record Examinations.
Employers can sponsor foreign workers with "specialty" skills on the three-year visas if they try to show local workers lack needed skills. The government grants 85,000 H-1Bs each year, setting aside 20,000 for people with advanced degrees. The visas ran out in 10 weeks this year, faster than at any time since before the recession.
More than 60 percent of the workers sought by Bay Area companies work in "computer occupations." The second largest group is engineers.
Financial specialists and life scientists also rank high in the San Francisco-East Bay region, with many of the scientists recruited by UC San Francisco. The annual 85,000 cap does not apply to universities and some other nonprofit institutions.
Amid an ongoing political debate over whether H-1B workers take away U.S. jobs and lower wages, the report's author, Neil Ruiz, said he hopes the geographical breakdowns will add nuance to a national debate focused on the biggest companies.
For instance, the fees companies pay for the visas fund tech and science training grants for American workers, and Ruiz found the grants were higher in states -- such as Kansas and Maine -- where the demand for visas was lower.
An exception was a $5 million grant from H-1B revenues awarded this year to San Francisco-based educational group WestEd for a four-year project to help IBM and AT&T workers keep up with new technology, and also to train the unemployed.
"What those fees are supposed to do is train local workers to have those skills" that H-1B workers are recruited for, said Matthew Spaur, a spokesman for WestEd.
"The H-1B workers are paying to replace themselves ... and making local people more competitive in a global economy."