Demand for Foreign Skilled-Worker Visas Soars Past Availability

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In just five days, companies requested 236,000 special H-1B visas for non-U.S. workers -- far more than the 85,000 the government has allotted. Here's why the issue is controversial.

The federal government has received a record number of requests for skilled-workers visas – also known as H-1B visas – for 2017. There have been 3,000 more requests for H-1B visas this year than were received last year.

In total, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it received a whopping 236,000 requests in just the first five filing days, though it can fill a mere 85,000 H-1B visas — the congressionally mandated cap for H-1B visas for fiscal year 2017.

The H-1B visa system is a non-immigrant visa designed to allow U.S. employers to recruit and employ foreign workers in specialty occupations or with special skills for up to six years. Although the majority of the visas go to workers in the technology field, they are also used for specialized positions in architecture, advertising, science, engineering and more.

“Reaching the H-1B cap within the first five days evidences that the U.S. economy is thirsting for the talent and skill of foreign nationals who contribute to our growth and job creation,” Roxanne Levine, a partner in a New York law firm that represents companies seeking the visas, told The Wall Street Journal.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the U.S. H-1B program has hit its cap very early on in the application process.

Of the 85,000 H-1B spots available, the vast majority — 65,000 — are doled out to employers who seek high-skilled foreign-born workers and the remaining 20,000 visas go to those with master’s degrees from U.S. institutions. On April 9, the USCIS used a computer-generated lottery process to select the applicants that would receive an H-1B visa for fiscal year 2017.

Some high-tech companies have lobbied for immigration reform and the expansion of the H-1B visa program, noting that high-skilled immigrant workers are vital to innovation. Says CNN Money:

Without a pathway to stay in the country, many talented techies could take their ideas and companies elsewhere.

After all, according to a recent study from the National Foundation for American Policy, more than 50 percent of the U.S.’s “unicorns” — or privately-held companies deemed to be worth $1 billion or more — had at least one immigrant founder.

But critics of the visa program allege that some companies abuse the H-1B program by using outsourcing firms to hire cheaper foreign workers to replace its American workers. For example, Walt Disney World was recently accused of laying off hundreds of American IT workers and replacing them with less expensive foreign nationals.

Check out “Is Mickey Mouse Breaking the Law? Disney World Sued for Hiring Practices.”

“There’s a lot of evidence now that the program is used for cheap labor in the tech industry,” Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, told the Journal. “The fact that reforms have not been agreed upon in Congress, despite all the attention, shows just how important the H-1B program is to the business community.”

What do you think of the H-1B program? Do you think it should be expanded or cut back? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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