Quota for visas for professionals met on first day; lottery set

Published 9 April 2008

US authorities said Tuesday they had received too many applications for a visa program for skilled workers for the coming year, meaning a random lottery will determine the winners

A week ago we wrote that the annual quota of the 65,000 H-1B visa program, used for many high-tech professionals, would be met on the first day of application. The other day the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that the quota had indeed been met, even though it did not say how many applications it had received for the fiscal year starting 1 October. The agency said it would “carry out the computer-generated random selection process” at a date to be determined. “Due to the high number of petitions, USCIS is not yet able to announce the precise day on which it will conduct the random selection process,” a statement from the agency said.

U.S. business leaders have urged Congress to raise the limits, arguing that the nation is running short of the talent it needs to remain competitive. They said this was the second year in a row the cap had been met immediately, forcing companies to wait until next April to apply for visas that would be effective in October 2009. “U.S. employers deserve better than a random lottery to determine if they can hire the highly educated candidates they need,” said Robert Hoffman, an executive at Oracle and co-chair of Compete America, which has lobbied for easier immigration policies. “Congress has failed to address the problem as U.S. universities graduate highly educated individuals who leave to work in competitor nations. This madness must end this year.” Lawmakers, however, have been cool to increasing the quotas for H-1B visas at a time of rising unemployment. Critics of the program argue that loopholes are being exploited by overseas firms, which send their nationals to the the United States at low wages and deprive Americans of employment. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said he would oppose higher limits unless they contained reforms to protect U.S. workers. “We can’t let powerful outside interests cloud our view of the harsh reality that highly skilled Americans are being passed over for jobs for cheaper, foreign labor,” Grassley said in a statement last week.

Launched in 1990, the H-1B visa program allows foreign scientists, engineers and others with advanced degrees to be employed for up to six years, at the end of which they must obtain a permanent residency or return home. A large number come from Asia, especially India.