U.S. hi-tech companies brace for new squeeze on high-tech visas

Published 31 March 2008

U.S. companies can apply for H1-B visa for a skilled foreign employee beginning 1 April for the fiscal year which begins 1 October; last year, all 65,000 H1-B visas were filled on the first day of application; tomorrow will be no different

We have written in the past about the fact that while much attention is being paid to illegal immigration into the United States, there is an equally urgent need to fix the U.S. legal immigration system. The main problem with the current system, which has been around for about four decades: It encourages (through programs such as family reunion, political asylum, arbitrary country and regional quotas, and more) the immigration into the United States of a large number of individuals with but little or no education while imposing severe limits, or caps, on the number of qualified, highly-educated engineers and scientists. Just so that we know the figures: The number legal immigrants allowed into the United States is about 820,000 a year — but the number of visas set aside specifically for engineers, scientists, and other high-education-high-value immigrants is set at 65,000 a year (see this HSDW story).

The U.S. hi-tech sector has long complained about this system, a system which undermines rather than contributes to the U.S. economic well-being.
We will be thinking about this system and its peculiar features tomorrow, 1 April, and the U.S. technology sector is going to do so, too, ruefully:
Facing another squeeze on a visa program for skilled workers, U.S. business leaders are stepping up efforts to raise the limits, or “cap,” arguing that the United States is running short of the talent it needs to remain competitive technologically and economically. A broad coalition of businesses, especially in the tech sector, are warning that the quota of 65,000 for the so-called H-1B visa program on 1 April, is likely to be filled the first day submissions are accepted for the fiscal year starting 1 October. If that occurs, employers seeking to hire skilled foreigners will have to wait for next year’s application to hire people in October 2009. It would be the second year in a row that the limit will have been reached on the first day, and will prompt the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency to resort again to a “lottery” to award these visas.

Robert Hoffman, vice president at software giant Oracle and head of the Compete America coalition, said the squeeze on these visas is hurting the ability of American companies to compete in the global marketplace. “This is an arbitrary and outdated cap set in 1990,” Hoffman told a gathering of business leaders and