For computer programmers, it’s all about location, location, location

A new paper by Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development looks at just how much it’s worth for an Indian computer programmer to come to the United States. Clemens analyzed the personnel records of an unnamed Indian-based IT firm,whose employees participated in the H-1B vista lottery in 2007 and 2008. The firm has ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Manjunath Kiran/AFP/GettyImages
Manjunath Kiran/AFP/GettyImages
Manjunath Kiran/AFP/GettyImages

A new paper by Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development looks at just how much it's worth for an Indian computer programmer to come to the United States. Clemens analyzed the personnel records of an unnamed Indian-based IT firm,whose employees participated in the H-1B vista lottery in 2007 and 2008. The firm has employees working at both its Indian office and onsite with foreign clients, so the winners of the lotteries were sent to the United States while the losers did offsite work. 

Clemens found that "for 2008 lottery entrants observed in 2007, the effect of working outside India is about 55,000 dollars per year in exchange-rate dollars. For 2007 lottery entrants observed in 2009, the effect is about 58,000 dollras per year."

So what does this tell us?

A new paper by Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development looks at just how much it’s worth for an Indian computer programmer to come to the United States. Clemens analyzed the personnel records of an unnamed Indian-based IT firm,whose employees participated in the H-1B vista lottery in 2007 and 2008. The firm has employees working at both its Indian office and onsite with foreign clients, so the winners of the lotteries were sent to the United States while the losers did offsite work. 

Clemens found that "for 2008 lottery entrants observed in 2007, the effect of working outside India is about 55,000 dollars per year in exchange-rate dollars. For 2007 lottery entrants observed in 2009, the effect is about 58,000 dollras per year."

So what does this tell us?

The results suggest that in this setting, the large majority of workers’ value arises from location alone. Most of these differences in wage and MRP cannot be attrributed to differences in the workers themselves or the technology they use.

Or perhaps these computer whizzes should be working on their catwalk strut. According to Bloomberg, fashion models — the only category of workers who can get H1-B visas without a college degree — "are almost twice as likely to get their visas as computer programmers."

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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