Software // Information Management
Commentary
4/10/2007
09:45 AM
Rajan Chandras
Rajan Chandras
Commentary
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The Annual Easter H-1B Hunt Exceeds Expectations

That thundering sound you heard down the streets leading to the offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) earlier this month was the stampede of immigration lawyers rushing to grab their share of H-1B visas for their resource-starved clients. It appears that all 65,000 H-1B visas for the coming year were snapped up in a single day. What gives?

That thundering sound you heard down the streets leading to the offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) earlier this month was the stampede of immigration lawyers rushing to grab their share of H-1B visas for their resource-starved clients. In a feeding frenzy against which the annual Thanksgiving rush at any Macy's or Best Buy pales into insignificance, it appears that all 65,000 H-1B visas for the coming year were snapped up in a day - the entire year's quota of work visas, sold out in one single day.

What gives?It is no secret that H-1B visas are in hot demand. The visas are officially doled out beginning October 1 of the year, but applications are accepted from as early as April. To put this in perspective, let's look at a little bit of recent history. Four years ago, for fiscal year 2005, visas ran out around October 1 of the previous year. For 2006, the cap was met around August, while for 2007 the cap was reached around June. This year, the limit was reached - in fact, exceeded by a wide margin - right on the first day itself, April 2 (mercifully, just missing April Fools Day).

What's next? Next year, can we expect to see legions of limber lawyers lining up at the USCIS doors from the previous midnight, donuts and coffee in hand? Will the USCIS start selling next year's visas in advance at a premium, and make a quick buck while the going is good?

On a more thoughtful note, will the unavailability of more visas lead to U.S. companies expanding their presence elsewhere? Will it lead to unsustainable levels of wage inflation in the technology sector? Will it stifle American innovation, and gradually pave the way to our losing our vaunted "technology edge?" On the other hand, does it help limit the damage to domestic morale, again especially in the tech sector? Does this mean that American technology workers will be spared from any further unfair competition this year? Will keeping the visa levels down - and presumably the concomitant increase in local hiring - help inspire our children to rejoin technology programs in our schools and colleges?

There is a third perspective that leans towards philosophy: Regardless of whether employers are exploiting the H-1B program, whether it leads to corporate competitiveness, and whether it is unfair to domestic technology workers, is it correct in an increasingly global economy to place artificial and emotional limits on importing "finished goods" (if I may respectfully thus term expert foreign technology workers) or "semi-finished goods" (equally respectfully, foreign graduates that come over to our universities for higher education and stay on)?

From yet another perspective - humanitarian, this time - do we treat these guest workers (that are, let's face it, invited by our own corporations) fairly enough in their quest to migrate and merge into this great country? Do we think they even deserve to migrate, or should they be strictly sent back after they're done? Once here as legal immigrants, do they deserve a faster path to permanent residency and citizenship than, say, the millions of illegal immigrants here?

These are all difficult questions, and if I had the wisdom and foresight to answer these questions, I would be either levitating in the air as I sit cross-legged in a state of nirvana, or screaming down Route 1 in a Lamborghini. But I have a feeling that if we can put aside the politics and put together our collective wisdom, surely there is a fair and equitable solution out there.

In the meanwhile, reports are that tired but satisfied, the USCIS has put up its shutters early for the season and given all employees an extra bonus for their hard work and commitment - and if you believe that, as a friend of mine likes to put it, I have a bridge that I would like to sell you.

Your thoughts and wisdom?That thundering sound you heard down the streets leading to the offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) earlier this month was the stampede of immigration lawyers rushing to grab their share of H-1B visas for their resource-starved clients. It appears that all 65,000 H-1B visas for the coming year were snapped up in a single day. What gives?

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