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Estimating the Size of the H-1B Population in the U.S.

Debate over the H-1B foreign worker program often focuses on the number of visas issued each year for one sub-category, 65,000. But that number, while accurate, is misleading; to understand the full impact of this, or any other, long-term non-immigrant program, we need to know not just the annual admissions — the “flow” — but also the “stock,” the number of people here in that status at any given time. There is no official estimate of the size of the total H-1B population; our estimate is 650,000 as of September 30, 2009, 10 times larger than the flow number usually referred to.

One of the (many) problems with making immigration policy is the seldom-noticed fact that we have no idea of the size of the non-immigrant population — i.e., foreign citizens in the United States on some sort of temporary status — nor of its component parts, such as of foreign workers.

In sharp contrast, there are either good data or plausible estimates on the other three components of the foreign-born population: naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, and illegal aliens.

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