H-1B lottery: Big rush for work visas as US economy picks up

New York: Indian firms seeking H-1B visas are staring at tough odds as the strengthening US economy has had technology companies, banks and businesses from Brazil to Belgium hunting for foreign worker visas. With demand for H-1B visas expected to exceed supply this year, employers will have to rely on a lottery to fill key positions.

Immigration experts predict employers will snap up all the available slots by 5 April for the application season that opened Monday for jobs starting in October 2013. There is a cap of 65,000 visas for foreign workers and 20,000 for students graduating from US colleges.

US officials say they expect demand to be so high that the visa programme might hit the yearly cap in the first five days. If that happens, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that runs the program, will pick winners in a random lottery, rather than allocating visas in the order in which companies sent in their petitions.

The H-1B visa quota for this year will be fully met in just five days. Reuters

The H-1B visa quota for this year will be fully met in just five days. Reuters

“We are seeing a very large application pool chasing H-1B visas this year so the odds of scoring a visa are longer than you might expect,” immigration lawyer David Parker told Firstpost.

Parker says his firm is swamped with handling three times as many H-1B petitions as a year ago.

From Ireland to India, H-1B visa seekers with a yen to work in the US announced their progress on social media with hope and trepidation. Like this one from James Smith, a PhD student from St Andrews:

More such responses here.

The last time employers reached the Congressionally mandated limit in less than a week was in 2008 when 1,63,000 petitions were submitted in the first five days of filing, forcing US officials to pick winners in a lottery.

In subsequent years, the weak US economy left thousands of H-1B spots unfilled. Demand for work visas has increased in the past two years as companies stepped up hiring. Last year, some of the top H-1B recipients were Indian technology firms Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services.

US companies for years have called on Congress to increase the cap on visas for skilled foreigners. The H-1Bs are granted for three years but can be renewed for a total of six years.

US visas for high-skilled foreign workers could double under a new Senate immigration plan, but last month Republican Senator Charles Grassley introduced new legislation to undercut some of the gains for foreign companies trying to acquire visas for sending workers to America.

Grassley’s worrying proposal, dubbed H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2013 (full text here), could make it infinitely harder for Indian outsourcing companies to acquire visas for workers they send to America. Grassley’s proposal seeks to deny work visas to foreign firms operating in the US who are deemed to be relying too heavily on foreign workers rather than hiring local Americans. The bill aims to deny new H-1B, or skilled-worker visas, to firms with more than 50 employees and 50 percent or more of its employees already on work visas.

The proposal also wants foreign companies to hire Americans by listing vacancies on a US Labor Department website for 30 days before attempting to fly in workers from their home offices on work visas.

The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2013 also demands that foreign companies pay wages in synch with America to tech workers they bring in on temporary work visas.

Doug Oberhelman, chief executive of Caterpillar Inc., on Monday called on the US government to issue more H-1Bs, saying that "gaps in our workforce" undermine US companies.

"There are more than 100 Chinese companies looking to be the next Caterpillar," warned Oberhelman. "The number of H-1B visas is capped each year without regard to current market demand."

Updated Date: Apr 02, 2013 06:38 AM

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