The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced this week that had it reached the congressionally mandated H-1B cap for fiscal year 2016. In addition, USCIS reported that it had received more than the limit of 20,000 H-1B petitions filed under the advanced degree exemption, also known as the masters cap.
American businesses use the H-1B program to employ foreign workers in jobs that require highly specialized knowledge in fields such as computer programming, science, and engineering.
In an indication of the limitations of the current program's architecture, the USCIS said it received nearly 233,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period, which began April 1, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption.
All together, the USCIS said on Monday, April 13, that it would grant 65,000 H-1B visas as mandated by US law, as well as the 20,000 visas under the advanced degrees exemption.
Furthermore, the USCIS is required to reject and return all unselected petitions with the filing fees, unless the petition is found to be a duplicate filing.
However, the USCIS noted it would continue to accept and process petitions filed to extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the US, among other exemptions.
The USCIS introduced myUSCIS earlier this month, which offers prospective immigrants access to free tools, such as applications and other information.
"Our goal is to provide a convenient source for trusted information that you can get anytime, anywhere and on any device," Mariela Melero, associate director of customer service and public engagement, wrote on the agency's official blog.
The overwhelming demand for H1-B visas has alarmed organizations that see the program's caps as a liability for US competitiveness. This is especially hard-felt in the US tech sector that relies on H-1B visa holders to assist with an array of different jobs.
"Year after year, the government falls back on a lottery system to determine which US employers will win the ability to hire top world talent," Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the industry lobby group Council for Global Immigration, told Reuters. "This year, employers had a mere 36 percent chance of being granted an H-1B visa. US economic growth should not be left up to this gamble."
The USCIS orders the selection method by processing advanced degree exemptions first, followed by unselected advanced degree petitions, which become part of the random selection process for the overall limit.
In response to the USCIS's announcement, Compete America, an organization that advocates for reform of US immigration policy for highly educated foreign professionals, released a statement warning that the limited availability of H-1B numbers presents a growing problem for American competitiveness.
"[The] announcement means that America's fastest growing industries are once again cut off, for a year and a half, from the scientific and engineering talent they need to continue to grow our economy, create American jobs and ensure they remain highly competitive at the global level," Scott Corley, executive director of Compete America, said in a statement. "Hitting the H-1B cap, which is meant to last all year, in the first seven days proves beyond a doubt that our immigration system needs fundamental reform."
The organization argues that a standardized green card process would not only encourage talented foreigners to remain employed in the US, but also help further alleviate certain pressures on the H-1B system, such as allowing those workers to skip temporary visas altogether.
"Perhaps Congress can afford to wait, but our economy and the American workers who benefit from the jobs created by highly skilled foreign professionals in America cannot," Corley warned.
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