Gaming the H-1B system (for good)

A recent article in the NY Times exposed how flawed the H-1B lottery process is. A handful of giant outsourcing companies flood the system with applications, making it near impossible for startups to hire international engineers. 

These companies are gaming the system. But there is a way to turn this game against them, by exploiting the Achilles heel in their plan - the H-1B transfer. Getting a H-1B is tough because regardless of your personal merits, you're in a lottery with thousands of other candidates. Your choice of employer is limited by those willing to play the lottery.  There's no lottery for transferring a H-1B though. The process is straightforward with no quota, you just have to find an employer willing to file the paperwork. This gave us an idea. 

We're announcing the Triplebyte H-1b transfer program. If you're working on a H-1B at one of these outsourcing companies, apply to Triplebyte and we'll cover all the costs of transferring your H-1B. We'll help you find a startup doing work you're excited about and walk them through the H-1B transfer process, making it a no brainer for them. We'll also provide you with an immigration lawyer, to answer any questions you have, and we'll cover the cost of that too.   

We're going to expand the pool of startups doing H-1B transfers so you have the same choice as anyone else.  We recently placed an engineer using a H-1B transfer, at a startup who wouldn't have considered doing this without our help. Many founders mistakenly assume that applying for and transferring a H-1B are synonymous. 

Helping great people move here is something that's personally important to us. My life was changed by moving out here to work on my first startup (after a year of struggling with trying various approaches to getting a visa). My co-founder Guilllaume moved here from France to work at Justin.tv and then found his own startup, Socialcam. We want to see more talented people coming here to work on building the future, not being cheap labor for giant corporations.  



Thanks to Theo Negri and Buildzoom for shining a light on this issue in the original story.
51 responses
Excellent idea, Harj! Having done one of those in the past, transfer process is actually not as scary as it may sound, but for someone not seeing it as the first option, it's still a prohibitively expensive and time-consuming act. You guys are onto something!
Doesn't the H1-B stipulate a minimum wage which is higher than the average for your position and geographic location?
Tim, It is common knowledge that the H1-B system is gamed and that those requirements are NEVER enforced, as was written about in the NYTimes piece.
@Tim - the minimum salary requirement for the H-1B is $60,000 a year. That's significantly below what startups in the Bay Area are paying engineers today.
The H1-B program is active all across the US so referring to SV salaries is pretty provincial.
How can someone in the Bay Area afford to live on $60, 000 a year?
So what makes your services competitive and unique? I mean, couldn't any immigration lawyer/law firm do the same thing? How could any company pay you less than an immigration lawyer, but get equal and even more services out of you? I went through the H1B application process, which took 1 lawyer, and 10 pages of paper work from me and my employer. After getting the H1B, I am aware I could transfer to any other firm that would hire me, without being subjected to the lottery again. If I want to work for anyone else, I just have to apply and explain what kind of process there is, that is a H1B transfer. This is a component explicitly built into the H1B related legislation. How exactly is this "gaming the system"?
Nemo - I believe the point is to turn the tables on the companies doing the gaming, by gaming 'their' system. Let them pay to bring someone over here as an abuse of the H-1b process, then jump ship. That costs the original company money, and perhaps more importantly they lose a scarce H-1b place.
"so you have the same choice anyone else." Should be: "so you have the same choice [as] anyone else." I'm just trying to be helpful, not trying to be nitpicking. Love your idea for the H-1B program.
The real problem is that 90% of h-1bs go to programmers or other software professionals. Imagine if 90% of h-1bs went to plumbers. Plumbers would become inexpensive. This is totally un-American and un-just. It is easy for these politicians and businesses to be generous with programmers pay checks. Let's vote out these politicians who support the h-1b. I would support the h-1b if the percentage of programmers/software professionals brought in did not exceed 20% of h-1bs. This is an atrocity and the aim is to decimate the lively hood of software professionals. They claim to be engineers but all of them are simply programmers. No more h-1bs for programmers!
Startups are NOT suitable for H1Bs. Say what? Yes, startups could be a great place to learn new tricks of the trade and build good stuffs fast. But when it comes to H1B or GC processes, one should AVOID startups as much as possible. If you are founder/co-founder, by all means run with it. There is something called H1B stamping interviews where candidates are required to go to US consulate and respond to bunch of interview questions. Good luck getting a clean 'GO' if you are not represented by a well-known MNC. Same issues with your parents or spouse seeking tourist visas. Consulate officials are usually non-technical people. They have no incentives of doing the homework on Techcrunch. An age-old well known brand name works much smoother than a state-of-the-art SV startup. Remember how you treat a (rockstar) engineer from a yet-to-be discovered unknown startup vs a (meh) engineer from Yahoo. It's just like that. Connect the dots for GC processes as well.
What about those of us who were brought here with a TN Visa and a 2 Year indenture?
Harj, although what you are doing in great, I'd like to remind that the vast majority of the H1B holders working at those outsourcing companies are Indian citizens. For them, the biggest problem they are facing is the long waiting time to get a green card (around 10 years at least). While waiting, they cannot be out of job longer than 30 days, and that makes working for startups an unfavorable choice.
A H1 transfer process was always available for the committed H1B person. Although kudos to TripleByte for formalizing it. But the H1B is also a route for a GC. A startup route might give a higher salary and a more exciting job, but startups are unpredictable. They can wind up in an instant, which gives a H1B 10 - 30 days (depending on whom you ask) to find another job and get back in status. GC processing gets reset (unless the applicant has moved to I-140 employee portability stage). Some H1Bs will take advantage of a transfer to move to better jobs. Some might want to stay put in whatever crummy job to wait out their turn at a GC, for themselves and their spouses, and an eventual chance to a citizenship .... oh just saw Chen beat me to this !
This is not such a good idea. I don't have exact stats, but, here in India, most of the H1B visas are lapped up by 'sweatshops'. They sent their intellectually and technically challenged employees to do 'client work'. These people have zero passion, zero knowledge and cannot write two lines of coherent code. I can only imagine what will happen if they end up working for startups.
I've obtained my US citizenship this year via the the H1B, and one of the "tricks" the bad employers do is to make you sign a contract so you can't switch job.
I agree with @farhanhubble. This is far from smart. Do you think these consultancies hire with quality in mind when they get H1Bs? Do they make these people grow? They are just drones, junior guys that get passed as senior and absolutely not good enough for a SV startup. And what about the good people? According to your strategy, they should first apply for one of these consultancies, get underpaid, then switch to a startup having the horrible consultancy on CV? Don't know if that will work out. The real solution is to cut the market of these big consultancies so they have to cut on workers and finally on H1Bs.
Most of the H1Bs here are not founder or co-founder quality and in fact are a far cry from even having junior level experience. Try "worse than entry level." When you look at what goes one with H1B consulting agencies, they absolutely 100% require the company hiring the consulting agency to TRAIN THE H1B WORKERS. No ifs, ands, or buts. Entry level workers are NOT going to propel startups forward. They will only drag them down. TripleByte, it's pretty clear you're just trying to be another player in the body shop industry. This proclaimed "benefit" of sponsoring H1Bs that you so clearly have stated here is in fact a basic "benefit" of Cognizant, another H1B body shop. The veil has been lifted.
The only real way to fix this "labor shortage" is to offer FAIR equity to the people actually building the company. Who REALLY wants to slave away for 60 hours a week scaling a company's product to hundreds of millions of dollars of value for just a plain old low six figure salary? It's not like the founders are the designers who just need unskilled labor. The people building (coding) products are the actual designers AND implementers. It's basically the "I have an idea" situation in Silicon Valley that is causing this bullcrap "labor shortage". EVERYONE HAS IDEAS. Who is ACTUALLY going to be the one who makes those ideas successful? Larry Ellison is one such "idea guy." He asked for 60% equity while two programmers actually built the software to make Oracle what it is today. This day and age, that kind of deal would never happen because people are wising up. No one wants to be that guy that Steve Jobs "gave nothing" in an early stage startup. Stop being the "I want a website that cures ebola and want 2 billion percent equity in the company as a founder. Give me some cheap labor to make it happen" idea people and START BEING USEFUL. Or just be another sleazy shady lying salesperson who only seeks VC funding so your company can slowly die out as a useless unicorn with an "idea" but no way to move forward (or even pivot) with it. This is just how it is.
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