Creating employment in a sluggish economy is a challenge which many countries are facing these days and the US is no exception. At the same time, many companies report that the pool of highly skilled workers is getting smaller. These seemingly contradictory conditions are increasing the debate over H1-B visas.
H1-B visas allow US employers to temporarily employ foreign workers with highly specialized knowledge and academic credentials in fields such as biotechnology, chemistry, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health. The current law limits to 65,000 the number of foreign nationals who may be issued H-1B status each fiscal year with 20,000 additional requests for exemptions. Putting a cap on H1-B Visas is a strategy aimed at limiting the number of jobs that go to non-US citizens, with advanced degrees, to fill specialized occupations.
On April 1st, the 2014 H1-B queue opened up and the cap was reached within the first week. During that week, 124,000 petitions were filed. Every year this game of ‘musical chairs’ is played by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to the utter consternation of staffing firms and ‘cap-subject’ employers; and also, to disappointment of many educated and highly skilled international workers, many of whom shelve their American dream – sometimes permanently. In fact, each year since the mid-90s, the number of days taken to reach the cap has been considered an indicator of the performance of the American economy. Immediately after the dotcom collapse in 2000, the demand for H1-Bs came down and did not pick up again until 2004. The US Government then created an additional quota of 20,000 for the foreign graduates of U.S. universities. But the increase has not really met the requirements of the employers.
This limit on H-1B visas affects the job market and businesses in different ways:
The proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) legislation includes changes which make work permits even harder to come by, and establishes significant new requirements to prevent, detect, and deter fraud and abuse of the H-1B and L-1 visa systems.
The DOL would provide a website where detailed job openings will have to be posted for at least 30 days before a H-1B candidate can be considered for the role. However, no decision seems to have been made about providing work permits to the spouses of H1 B visa holders, who are currently allowed to live in the country but not allowed to take up any employment.
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