IZA DP No. 7456: Flight of the H-1B: Inter-Firm Mobility and Return Migration Patterns for Skilled Guest Workers
Published as "Inter-firm mobility and return migration patterns of skilled guest workers" in Journal of Population Economics, 2017, 30(2): 681-721
Critics of the H-1B program for high-skilled workers argue that the program restricts immigrant job mobility and lacks a vehicle for adjusting the number of visas during a recession. We study the job mobility of highly-skilled Indian IT guest workers and provide new evidence on their inter-firm mobility and return migration patterns. We use a unique multi-year firm level dataset to show that, outside of the Great Recession, these workers are mobile and that lower paid guest workers are more likely than higher paid guest workers to separate to another firm in the U.S. We also analyze return migration decisions and find that low wage workers repatriate more than high wage workers, and that this relationship intensified during the Great Recession. This partially mitigates concerns that guest worker visa programs do not adjust to fluctuations in the macro economy. Following this finding, we show that the employment to population ratio (EPOP) for highly-skilled male workers has fallen at a much steeper rate since 2008 than is typically recognized, once we account for the phenomenon of discouraged immigrants.