Wall Street Journal
By Miriam Jordan
April 7, 2016
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Thursday said the number of petitions for H-1B visas that it received exceeded the 85,000 available since the process opened April 1.
U.S. demand for foreign skilled-worker visas often used by technology companies surpassed the entire year’s mandated supply within five days, prompting the government to announce it will award them through a lottery.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that handles applications for the visas, known as H-1Bs, said Thursday the number of petitions it received topped the 85,000 available since the process opened April 1.
It is the fourth consecutive year requests outstripped supply in less than a week, triggering a lottery. Businesses clamor for the H-1Bs, which are intended to fill jobs for which there aren’t qualified Americans. The majority go to workers in the tech sector but they also are used for professionals in advertising, architecture and other fields.
Demand had been widely expected to quickly exceed the allotment, which is set by Congress. The government said it hasn’t yet set a date for the lottery, a computer-generated random selection process, and didn’t disclose the total number of applications it received.
“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,” said Roxanne Levine, a partner in a New York law firm that represents companies seeking the visas.
High-tech companies in particular have lobbied for the visa program’s expansion.
Critics say qualified U.S. workers are being displaced by cheaper foreign hires through the program. They highlight that many H-1Bs are issued to global outsourcing companies, particularly from India, that send workers to the U.S. to acquire skills and then move them back overseas, a practice that essentially promotes outsourcing of American jobs.
“There’s a lot of evidence now that the program is used for cheap labor in the tech industry,” said Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank. “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.”
Companies apply for an H-1B with a specific job candidate in mind, and it usually involves immigration attorneys and costs several thousand dollars per petition. The visas are initially approved for three years and can be extended for another three. Such visa extensions don’t count toward the cap.
Demand for the visas, which plunged during the recession, began to rise again in 2011.
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