The Baton Rouge metro area ranked No. 69 nationwide in demand for high-skilled foreign workers, with LSU and the East Baton Rouge Parish School System the largest employers of these workers, according to a report by The Brookings Institution.
There were 512 H-1B visa requests made by 301 businesses in the Baton Rouge area, the report shows. Of those, 51 percent were for workers in so-called STEM occupations — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The report found that the visa fees that support technical training for the work force aren’t being distributed to where the money is most needed.
High-demand metros only get around $3 per worker, while low-demand metro areas get around $15 per worker, the report says.
Baton Rouge is about where it should be in terms of funding, said Jill Wilson, senior research analyst at Brookings and co-author of the report.
Baton Rouge got $1 million in federal grants from the visa fees, the report shows. The area ranked No. 63 in terms of grant funds.
“The grant dollars that have been received there are about on par there with the level of demand that we saw in this data,” Wilson said.
Brookings recommends two policy changes:
- Creating an independent Standing Commission on Labor and Immigration to recommend timely immigration policy changes that quickly respond to the demand for high-skilled workers in regional markets.
- Target the H-1B visa fees to metro areas with a high demand for those workers. This way the area work force’s skills can be upgraded to meet the needs of local employers.
The largest employer of these workers is Microsoft, with an average of 4,100 workers in 2010 and 2011.
Renee Amar, Louisiana state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said the H-1B program doesn’t have much impact on small businesses.
A 2008 NFIB survey asked members if their businesses would directly benefit a lot, benefit a little, be damaged a little or be damaged a lot by increasing the number of visas available for highly skilled workers. Seventy-four percent of small employers said they would not be affected by an increase.
Small businesses and employers are more interested in increasing the number of work visas for nonfarm workers under the H-2B program, Amar said.
Louisiana seafood processors employed 1,415 of the H-2B guest workers during the 12 months ending Oct. 31, 2010, according to a report by the LSU AgCenter.
Landscaping firms employed 530 of the workers.
Louisiana and other states are working to halt proposed federal rules that will increase the pay for those workers by an average of 32 percent. The wage hike could add $13 million in labor costs to agriculture-related businesses, opponents say.