Tech-visa demand exceeds supply
Firms' bids will be entered into lottery for 65,000 visas; 150,000 applications received
By Michele R. Marcucci, STAFF WRITER
Alameda Times Star
Article Last Updated: 04/04/2007 08:09:26 AM PDT
The scramble for tech worker visas was almost over before it started. Immigration officials announced Tuesday that they hit the cap for next year's H-1B visas Monday, the first day companies could apply for them.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services representatives said they had received a record 150,000 applications as of late Monday afternoon for the 65,000 visas available for the 2008 federal fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.
Immigration officials will accept all the applications received Monday and Tuesday and will place them in a computer-generated lottery to determine who will receive the visas, which are for architects, engineers, computer programmers and other skilled workers. It's not yet clear whether an additional 20,000 visas set aside for workers with a master's degree or higher are gone, too.
The lottery will not take place for several weeks, according to an agency press release. And that has businesses and the attorneys representing them waiting anxiously to find out whether they can make planned hires.
San Francisco attorney Gali Schaham Gordon, who said last week she'd be working through Saturday to get her clients' applications out, said all of her applications made it in on time.
“However, as you can imagine, I have some very nervous clients right now,” she said.
Robert Hoffman, Oracle's vice president of government and public affairs and co-chair of Compete America, a coalition of businesses, universities and others
pushing for reform, was dismayed the cap was hit so quickly.
“A significant number of exceptionally skilled individuals who will be graduating this year from U.S. colleges and universities will be shut out of the U.S. job market, and not for a lack of jobs but for a lack of visas,” he said.
Hoffman said Oracle did file H-1B applications but that the company doesn't know yet how many will be accepted. He said the company is concerned the visa system will impact its ability to recruit and retain top talent.
Hoffman said this signifies the system for bringing in foreign workers has hit an “absurd” level of dysfunction. He, Gordon and others said it heightens the urgency for immigration reform.
Immigration attorneys and business leaders said last week they were concerned the visas could run out in the first few days they were available. Visas issued for 2007, not counting those for advanced degree holders, ran out in less than two months last year.
They are pushing Congress to increase or remove the cap for the employer-sponsored visas and also for green cards for the workers.
A comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced last month in the House of Representatives could nearly triple the number of the visas available and more than double the number of green cards for visa holders.
The White House also has issued an immigration reform proposal, which would issue employment visas on a point system based on the U.S. economy's needs. But it's unclear how that would impact the number of H-1Bs, said Bob Sakaniwa, associate director of advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Some have complained the system is abused by companies, some seeking to hire cheap foreign labor at the expense of American workers.
A bill introduced last week by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, would crack down on the use of H-1Bs, requiring companies to increase efforts to hire American workers before bringing in foreign labor and issuing additional restrictions on the use of the visas.
Contact Michele R. Marcucci at email@example.com or (510) 208-6434.