Are Visas Restricting Job Mobility for Foreign Workers?

January 28, 2019

Significant numbers of workers enter the US every year on a variety of work visas, including the H-1B program for specialty workers, the O-1 program for extraordinary ability workers, and the J-1 program for professors and research scholars, as well as many other programs. These visa processes are often long, complex, and require a fair amount of elbow grease from both the employers and the employees. As a result, its fair to wonder if workers in the US on those visa programs are “trapped” at their jobs, or if they have as much worker mobility as native workers do. After all, America is a land of opportunity, and being confined to one position indefinitely is not much of an opportunity!

Jennifer Hunt, from Rutgers University, and Bin Xie, from Jinan University, attempted to study how much job mobility visa holders had in comparison to native US workers. Using data from the National Survey of College graduates, they traditionally the mobility rates are very similar, mobility drops nearly 20% (!) during the application period for visas, and it spikes once temporary workers obtain permanent residence.

According to Hunt and Xie, the data suggests that while employers may have some additional power over the employees during the application period, overall the concerns that employers have “monopsony powers” should be alleviated, given the similar rates of job movement among US workers.

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Citation: Hunt, J. and Xie, B. (2019), How Restricted is the Job Mobility of Skilled Temporary Work Visa Holders?. J. Pol. Anal. Manage., 38: 41-64. doi:10.1002/pam.22110

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