H-1B Visas: What To Expect In 2015 - InformationWeek

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Commentary
11/18/2014
08:46 AM
Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
Commentary
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H-1B Visas: What To Expect In 2015

Demand for new H-1B visas will continue to outstrip supply -- likely by an even wider margin -- in 2015. Here's guidance for employers and employees.

If recent history is a guide, here's one thing H-1B visa hopefuls can bank on in the coming year: The application window will be stuffed the minute it opens next April 1, and it will close in a matter of days, not weeks or months.

In 2013, US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) received 124,000 petitions for new H-1B visas, shuttering the filing period after one week. In 2014, USCIS received around 172,500 applications for new H-1Bs in the minimum five business days it must keep the filing period open. The window closed on April 7.

That's a jump of nearly 50,000 applications from the previous year and more than double the annual legislative cap of 85,000 available new H-1Bs, 20,000 of which are reserved for people with master's degrees or PhDs. (Some H-1B visas are exempt from the federal cap in certain circumstances, such as those for employees of universities or nonprofit groups.) Visas were then allotted via a computer-generated lottery system.

Expect demand to continue to outstrip supply -- likely by an even wider margin -- in 2015.

"There's been a marked increase" in new H-1B applications, Scott Fanning, an employment attorney with Fisher & Phillips, said in an interview. "It's our belief that it's just going to keep increasing exponentially."

[Where do L-1 visas fit into the picture? Read L-1 Visas: H-1B's Quiet, Powerful Cousin.]

There are multiple catalysts driving demand for new H-1Bs, but Fanning noted one is simply a byproduct of the limited supply: When a would-be H-1B holder doesn't get lucky in the lottery system, the only visible path to securing an H-1B visa in the near future is to try, try again in the following year. About 87,000 applicants didn't hear their number called in last year's lottery; many of them will likely try again in 2015, whether with the same prospective employer or a new one.

A related factor in rising demand: Employers who sponsor H-1B visas are bumping up the number of applications they file each year to mitigate the increased likelihood that some of their petitions won't survive the numbers game.

"Employers are increasing the number of applications they may be filing due to fear of the lottery," Fanning said. They are "bona fide applications; these are positions that, for some companies, they desperately need. Companies are filing more in the hopes of getting more approvals."

With an overall application success rate of less than 50% last year, some companies are effectively increasing their H-1B hiring goals, knowing that many would-be H-1B hires won't get visas.

Some H-1B employers are also speeding up their timelines, according to Fanning, applying sooner for new visas in certain scenarios. A common one: companies that hire international graduates of US universities under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for F-1 visa holders. OPT hires may work legally in the US for up to 12 months. In 2008, however, the federal government enabled extensions for an additional 17 months, or 29 months total, for students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

"Even though they may have another two years left, or 17 months left, on OPT, they're going to accelerate the process and file for the H-1B now," Fanning said.

In the past, employers who hoped to retain OPT employees over the longer term on an H-1B visa typically waited until the allowable 29 months for STEM graduates were approaching their end. Now, more companies are applying for H-1Bs on behalf of recent graduates immediately, rather than waiting for the extension period. There were 92,465 F-1 visa holders participating in OPT in federal fiscal year 2010; roughly 10,000 of them were classified as STEM workers approved for the 17-month extension period, with the majority still working within the first 12-month period, according to Congressional Research Service data.

Fanning's phone -- and the phones of labor and immigration lawyers around the country -- will still ring with last-minute H-1B-related requests from employers each spring, but advance planning has become a de facto necessity as a result of stiffer competition for H-1B visas. Employers have always had to look ahead in terms of hiring -- the earliest date successful H-1B applicants can begin work in the US is Oct. 1 following the filing period, the first day of the federal fiscal year. But the demand spike, coupled with an increasing need for contingency planning in the event of unsuccessful applications, has forced an even longer view, Fanning said.

The process similarly favors the well-organized -- even for successful applicants, the paperwork burden can be intense, both in the initial application and in subsequent requests for evidence, USCIS audits, and other compliance matters. Such requests for evidence, in particular, have increased considerably in recent years.

"Enforcement has increased substantially in the past four years. It's not something that just happened recently in this past year," Fanning said. The spotlight shines brightest on any employers that are considered IT consulting firms, rather than companies using H-1B visas to fill internal, on-site positions. "Any kind of employer where they do consulting -- where there's not going to be working on site, where they're going to go to third-party sites -- those are carefully scrutinized [and] will get requests for evidence that you have to respond to voluminously in order to support it."

USCIS and other federal authorities have been cracking down on fraud in recent years. That effort is highlighted by

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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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
11/20/2014 | 7:36:07 AM
Re: Talent Pool
You're dead on.  I've done the same, work was drying up in one area so I looked for areas that were growing.  I left my home town to move to a bigger city and then from there moved again to a city that was growing and more to my liking.  I don't think you should ever shortchange yourself when it comes to salary, if you don't believe you are worth the money neither will an employer and once you are hired it is more difficult to get large bumps in pay.  If you have to take a job to make ends meet at a lower rate then you now have two jobs because you should still be looking for ways to get your pay to a range you are comfortable with.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
11/19/2014 | 9:34:13 AM
Re: Talent Pool
@SaneIT,

Thank you for your comment,

It's true, some organizations are trying to get more bang for the buck.

Even though we aren't in the best of times, isn't it in the interest of the professional to NOT accept a lower wage? (since as you've pointed out, this leads to a trend). Granted not every situation is the same, but if I see that local companies aren't willing to pay what I"m worth, then it's a sign to seek better opportunities else where. Thoughts?
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
11/19/2014 | 7:31:44 AM
Re: Talent Pool
I think the excuse of not being able to find talent locally is mostly garbage.  I think there is a qualifier left out and that is talent who will work hard for much less than they are worth.  In the decades I've been doing IT I have not run across one ethnic group who does any IT task better than any other across the board.  What we're seeing is a land grab for cheap workers not talent.  If you want some great programmers then spin up an incubator program locally and get the kids who are building calculators in Minecraft into building bigger things.
JakeL642
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JakeL642,
User Rank: Strategist
11/18/2014 | 9:28:13 PM
Half of all U.S. Stem graduates cannot find a job in a STEM field, after 5 years of looking.
The biggest users of H-1b visas are Offshore Outsourcing companies.

Recently, in U.S. court documents, an InfoSys hiring manager is quoted as saying:

"Americans don't know (expletive)."

When a recruiter was about to present to that InfoSys hiring manager the resumes of several qualified U.S. citizens.  The recruiter was then directed to only consider the resumes of people from India.

InfoSys is the second largest user of H-1b visas.  InfoSys is an outsourcing company that specializes in doing mundane IT tasks.

Yet we allow this company to use the H-1b visa that in turn enables the company to completely ignore the resumes of qualified U.S. citizens, indeed to actively (as a matter of Corporate culture) discriminate against U.S. citizens for jobs on U.S. soil.

Clearly this is a program that has been hijacked for an evil purpose, that being to eliminate qualified Americans from a free and fair competition for jobs on U.S. soil.

We need to realize, the inescapable conclusion, that the biggest driver of demand for H-1b visas, isn't the inability to find workers (see the InfoSys lawsuit referenced above).  

What drives demand for H-1b workers is the size of your Offshore contingent, and the degree of racism in your corporate culture.

The remaining jobs, not taken up by Outsourcing Companies, are of course the ones that the Offshore Outsourcing companies cannot do, and maybe no one except for "Magic Purple Squirrels" can do (because the company wants to exclude all resumes for the sake of an in-house Green card candidate).

Half of all U.S. Stem graduates cannot find a job in a STEM field, after 5 years of looking.

Minority (blacks and hispanics) participation (already under represented) has been cut in half over the last 10 years.

Thanks to racism and the H-1b visa, all of the starting jobs are going to the Offshore Outsourcing companies.

When are we going to realize that allowing a government program to be hijacked by companies that discriminate against U.S. citizens is completely unacceptable?


Who will stop the rain?
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
11/18/2014 | 4:34:20 PM
Re: H-1B Visas
Thanks for this overview, Kevin. To those of us not affected by the visa situation, it can all be a bit confounding. I find myself flipping (or, clicking) through multiple pages on job applications asking me variations on the same questions about my work status, only to wonder 'can't I just tick one checkbox that says I was born in the US and can legally work anyhwere?'. It helps to understand that there are legitimate reasons why not. Likewise, many naysayers are prone to oversimplify the issue, and lay the blame on the 'nefarious' government, but there's a lot more nuance to it than that.

Many of these jobs, as mejiac says, are highly, highly specialized, and the distinction of STEM jobs into it's own category is a step in the right direction. The segregation of more of these jobs to qualified international candidates may in fact help US job growth if those jobs couldn't be filled by US-born candidates, but that's an issue for someone more qualified on the matter than myself to answer. On the other end, the crackdown on compliance and proof seems a necessary evil - tons of visas going to frauds like the ones you mention are a loss for everybody - and hopefully those applicants suffering the burden can view it as a protection for themselves. I wish anyone applying the best of luck this year.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
11/18/2014 | 12:00:59 PM
Talent Pool
Excellent Article!

"Employers who sponsor H-1B visas are bumping up the number of applications they file each year to mitigate the increased likelihood that some of their petitions won't survive the numbers game."

I can confirm this by simply looking at my surrounding. From my perspective, companies are making lots of strives to either retain the current talent they have, or be able to quickly ramp up when applications fall through the cracks.

I think one trend that has led to companies having to sponsor talent is because of very specific skill sets that are being sought, that many times you either can't find locally, or those that do have the talent aren't willing to relocate (or demand higher pay that exceeds the allowed budget)

 

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