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H-1B Visa Demand Spike Predicted

When the window for new H-1B applications opens on April 1, three IT job categories will lead the charge: software engineering, information security, and big data.

Been waiting to start those H-1B visa applications? Get cracking or you'll be waiting until 2015.

The application window for new H-1B visas opens on April 1, and strong demand will likely exceed the federally mandated cap -- 65,000 new visas for foreign workers, plus an additional 20,000 visas reserved for people with advanced degrees -- on the same day, according to labor lawyer Shanon Stevenson.

Shanon Stevenson

Stevenson, a partner at Fisher & Phillips who specializes in immigration law, noted that US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will usually keep the window open for at least five business days to allow for weather-related delays and other issues. That means the agency will accept valid applications until at least April 7 even if it's already over the cap; a lottery system determines who gets approved when the number of applications exceeds the supply of visas. Suffice it to say, though, that stragglers won't have much luck -- if you miss the window, you'll need to wait until April 1, 2015, to try again since USCIS only accepts new applications once a year.

Stevenson's prediction echoes other experts who expect significant demand for new H-1B visas this year, matching or surpassing 2013, when USCIS received 124,000 new petitions in less than a week before closing the window.

"I think this year it's going to be even more," Stevenson said in an interview. She noted increased interest among both existing clients who have previously sponsored H-1B visas on behalf of prospective employees and new clients who are doing so for the first time. "Just based on the increase we're seeing in our workload... and what we're hearing from other immigration lawyers, we think the cap will be reached just like it was last year within the first five business days of filing."

A steadily improving economy is one factor; new H-1B applications tend to rise and fall in concert with overall hiring and other economic trends. A bigger factor is -- you guessed it -- a shortage of domestic technology skills, according to Stevenson, which, paired with increased hiring overall, will fuel new H-1B petitions.

"The main one is the overwhelming demand for technology workers," Stevenson said. (H-1B visas aren't reserved solely for technology jobs, though they typically drive much of the demand.) She pointed to the White House's emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, for instance, as a sign of poor IT skills development in the US. Stevenson said that some of her firm's clients struggle to find even qualified entry-level talent for certain tech jobs. "We're just not having enough of our US students enrolling in STEM degree programs," Stevenson said. "Not having enough US workers who are trained in the STEM fields, that's where the main demand is coming from."

[For more on entry-level IT jobs, see: 25 Most Lucrative Internships: Tech's Big Spenders.]

Three IT job categories will lead the H-1B charge this year: software engineering, information security, and big data. "Software engineer" has long been the preferred H-1B term for candidates who can develop everything from internal systems to, more recently, customer-facing mobile apps. "It covers a wide variety of job titles," Stevenson said.

The need for qualified security pros has been on the rise, Stevenson said, for perhaps obvious reasons -- each new data breach underscores the long-term need for better IT security. That requirement will only grow as more and more devices go online in the so-called Internet of Things era. Stevenson has worked in immigration law for 17 years, with a particular focus on technology, and said this year's demand for qualified security talent is unprecedented.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

And while the buzz around big data may already have reached fever pitch, Stevenson noted a growing interest among employers in hiring candidates with advanced degrees in statistics to help mine that information for actual business value. "A lot of companies who may not have hired statisticians in the past, whether it's in information technology or just in business analysis positions, they're [now] hiring workers with masters degrees in statistics," Stevenson said, adding that some employers are even looking for candidates with PhDs. "It's a really hot field right now and there are just not enough US students enrolling in stats, I'm afraid," Stevenson said.

To put it mildly, the H-1B process tends to be a divisive topic. Detractors say it replaces American workers with foreign ones, among other complaints.

"Our employers want to hire US workers, but they're just having a hard time finding anyone, especially [with STEM backgrounds], who can fill these positions," Stevenson said. "A lot of them will go to great lengths to hire [domestically before looking abroad]."

While some misperceptions do surround the H-1B visa, the potential for fraud isn't one of them. Last year, for example, Infosys paid a record-breaking $34 million to settle allegations of "systemic visa fraud and abuse of immigration processes." Those allegations included knowingly using B-1 visitor visas, which are issued for short-term business travel, to circumvent the H-1B process.

Stevenson said such cases encourage increased scrutiny of employers with H-1B visa-holders on their payrolls. USCIS officers can show up unannounced, at any time, to conduct onsite audits, which include inspecting pay stubs and working conditions, ensuring that employees are performing the duties they were hired for, and other checks, Stevenson said.

Meanwhile, Stevenson said the best way for employers to manage stiff competition for H-1B visas is rather simple: Don't procrastinate. Stevenson's desk already has a stack of completed applications ready for FedEx pickup on April 1. She added that employers need to remember that successful H-1B candidates can't start working until October 1; the process isn't intended for filling immediate labor gaps. Missing the April 1 window this year would mean the earliest a new H-1B worker could start would be October 1, 2015.

"[The process] really requires employers to look at their hiring needs for the next one-and-a-half years and predict what contracts and which projects are going to be coming through the door that they're going to need these workers for," Stevenson said.

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Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
3/20/2014 | 6:33:44 PM
As an immigrant myself
I don't have comprehensive understanding of the whole process or what is fair or not. I am an immigrant worker myself from Vietnam in the software industry, and it's a difficult journey to get here in the US. Maybe I am stealing job from Americans? But I am paid fairly high compared to my American colleagues in the same field (in Seattle). I am working for a small company and not a big corporate.

Now I have been a big part of the company's small team, having my job hanging by a thread just because a lottery is ridiculous and unfair. 

Sure, there are big corps taking advantage of the low-wage workers, immigrants who don't have choices. But how about those who have made it through and now becoming successful? 

It might be easy to say I can go back to my home country and start working with 1/10 of the salary. Well, we don't burn our time, money and sweat to make it somewhere to then just to be reset to zero because a random algorithm said so. I'm here to make a living just like everyone else, and with virtually no protection from the Vietnamese government or the US goverment except for this H1B visa program. 

Make it fair for workers of all origins. I am no Indian but I feel sympathy for all the Indians workers who get all the blame. Americans have the home field advantages: exisiting social connections, no language barriers, no cultural barriers, better education, higher living standards, an array of priveledges. Immigrants are just willing to take a bet, go home or nothing. And where I'm from is not an easy place to live with so many problems of its own. It's not all roses.

I hope to be fair and to compete fairly with Americans for jobs, instead of being treated like second-class citizen everywhere. It is frustrating.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/15/2014 | 11:44:44 AM
You mention 'Big Data'
How many of these H1Bs know it? maybe they get a 1 day course in India. And employers are looking for people with these skills? So they want H1Bs who DON'T HAVE THE SKILL. Why is that?

Why because if they have to allow ramp-up on the skill set they'd rather do it at a cheaper rate. Where does that leave Americans and Green Card holders who are seeking jobs with that skill set, or recent colleg graduates..  where does it leave America's future in IT? We've been losing that edge for decades. The H1B program should be eliminated, period. It's a disgrace it isn't, all because of the myths spready by greedy corporations who are just here for the NYSE listing.

US citizens and Green card holders have houses, mortgages, families  - when they are replaced by H1Bs who pays for the loss in taxes (income and otherwise) and unemployment benefits. H1Bs like to talk about how they pay SS taxes - ok I'd say put it down to a cost of being here and burnishing the resume.  US Banks. telecoms and even State governments (and the Federal govt too) offshore (and inshore via H1B and L1 visas)  - it's part of the Beancounter tools and what it does is cause MISERY for US families.

User Rank: Strategist
3/14/2014 | 1:35:57 AM
Re: Talent shortage?
While there is a requirement that H-1Bs be paid the “prevailing wage” when the rules for determining that wage are applied the resulting wage is 20-30 percent less than what an American would earn. As entrepreneur turned academic Vivek Wadhwa of Duke University put it: “I know from my experience as a tech CEO that H-1Bs are cheaper than domestic hires. Technically, these workers are supposed to be paid a ‘prevailing wage,’ but this mechanism is riddled with loopholes. In the tech world, salaries vary widely based on skill and competence. Yet the prevailing wage concept works on average salaries, so you can hire a superstar for the cost of an average worker.”
User Rank: Strategist
3/14/2014 | 12:53:14 AM
Re: Left and Right Agree
Regarding Sander’s political leanings point taken. I was trying to say that smart people see the H-1B for what it is. Two who have expressed candidly about the H-1B are former Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Representative Tom Davis (R-VA). Bennett said "Once it's clear (the visa bill) is going to get through, everybody signs up so nobody can be in the position of being accused of being against high tech. There were, in fact, a whole lot of folks against it, but because they are tapping the high-tech community for campaign contributions, they don't want to admit that in public." Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), said, "This is not a popular bill with the public. It's popular with the CEOs. This is a very important issue for the high-tech executives who give the money"
User Rank: Strategist
3/13/2014 | 6:39:31 PM
Re: Left and Right Agree
While he espouses certain socialist ideas Sen. Sanders is not a part of any of the Socialist parties in the US. It would be accurate to classify Sen. Sanders is a registered Independent who frequently caucuses with Democrats. What is more relevant is how few Democrats or Republicans come out expressly for or against the H1B programs for fear they will alienate their high tech industry contributors.
User Rank: Strategist
3/13/2014 | 3:15:00 PM
Re: Talent shortage?
Absolutely correct.  The companies that seek H1-B visas have no desire to hire American workers.  They have no desire to provide training for Americans to aquire these skills.  Industry wants IT workers to come ready made and to have born the cost of training out of the workers pockets.   Industry prefers younger immigrants who are willing to put in hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime. 

How can American I.T. applicants compete against Indian workers that have had training subsidized by the Indian government?   Workers that do not have family obligations.  Workers that are young and come without any healthcare needs.  Workers that are here for a few years and then take the money and go back home to India. 

It is disgraceful that our legislators are selling American jobs to oversees workers. 

Let's also add that this is huge contributor to the income gap that we see in America.  These are the middle class jobs that are being offshored.  Of course we now have a widening gap between the haves and the have nots.  Congress is seeing to it that we do by using H1_B's. 
User Rank: Author
3/13/2014 | 2:48:39 PM
Re: Talent shortage?
That's already a requirement, Lorna. "You must be paid at least the actual or prevailing wage for your occupation, whichever is higher." But that doesn't mean employers don't skirt the rules.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/13/2014 | 12:29:01 PM
What they government
What the government is doing is a disgrace

There are plenty of American's that can do these jobs.  There are enough people on unemployment that can fill these voids in IT and other areas.  They only differences are that

The American works are more experienced and have higher salary expectation.  The foreign workers are willing to take lower salary handed out to them because the government doesn't

step in to protect American workers like the foreign governments do.   Most foreign countries protect their workers from layoffs, downsizing, etc.  They aren't allowed.  We should be more

like Canada, where all jobs must be filled with an Canadian before it can be outsourced to someone from another company, they have to prove that there aren't any workers available to fill that spot.

Why is the US government allowing big companies to outsource to foreign companies without being penalized, they should lose all tax breaks when they close up shops or IT departments outsource

to foreign workers.  It's about time that the US government stands up for the American people.
User Rank: Ninja
3/13/2014 | 12:25:40 PM
Lack of investment in Americans continues
After over 20 years of "filling the gap" with foreign IT workers you would think there would be Americans available by now.  When we are short of ICU nurses we don't go to India for them.  When we are short of teachers for special needs students we don't go to India for them.  When we have a shortage of ANY other profession we build at home.  Why are we still NOT doing this for IT jobs? 
User Rank: Strategist
3/13/2014 | 12:15:56 PM
Left and Right Agree
Conservative Nobel winning economist Milton Friedman said "There is no doubt, that the [H-1B] program is a benefit to their employers, enabling them to get workers at a lower wage, and to that extent, it is a subsidy."  Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says "What many of us have come to understand is that these H-1B visas are not being used to supplement the American workforce where we have shortages but, rather, H-1B visas are being used to replace American workers with lower cost foreign workers."
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