U.S. Overwhelmed By H-1B Visa Requests - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing

U.S. Overwhelmed By H-1B Visa Requests

In a seven-day period, Citizenship and Immigration Services said it received nearly double the 85,000 visas that can be issued for fiscal 2009.

During the five-day window in April that the United States was accepting H-1B visa petitions, the government received 163,000 H-1B applications, nearly double the 85,000 visas that can be issued for fiscal 2009 starting Oct. 1.

Of the petitions received by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, more than 31,200 were for the exempted category of foreign students with advanced degrees from U.S. schools. The annual cap on that exempted group is 20,000, while the annual cap on general H-1B visas is set at 65,000.

Although the preliminary number of 163,000 petitions filed this year from April 1 to April 7 exceeded the 133,000 that were filed last April, the figure isn't as high as some tech industry groups had expected. That's because last year USCIS received the 133,000 petitions in two days before it stopped accepting any more.

"There was speculation there would be more," said a spokesman for Compete America, a coalition of tech companies and educators lobbying Congress to raise the cap. Yet, "as expected, tens of thousands of highly educated professionals will lose the random lottery, and America's door will be shut to this talent," said Robert Hoffman, co-chair of Compete America and VP for government and public affairs at Oracle in a statement. "Congress must address this problem once and for all this year."

Still, others were surprised that number climbed as high as it did. "I had expected it to be somewhat lower," said Kim Berry, president of U.S. IT worker advocacy group Programmers Guild in an e-mail interview with InformationWeek. "Still, since those applications were for 85,000 slots, it means that over 50% of the applications will be approved," said Berry. "It also means that if approval were based on salary, all applications that paid over the median -- historically below $60,000 -- would have been approved."

"Congress is aware that tens of thousands of these visas are being used by foreign consulting firms that are displacing U.S. consulting firms and offshoring American technology," said Berry. "This usage does not increase U.S. global competitiveness and undermines U.S. workers, and thus should be prohibited."

USCIS this week expects to begin conducting its computerized random selection process to approve the H-1B visa petitions. The 20,000 petitions for the advanced degree exemption will be selected first. Those advanced degree petitions not selected will get a second chance to be picked -- those applications will then join the pool of general petitions that are subject to the 65,000 cap.

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