H-1B Visa Limits Hit After Only 1 Day

On the day after it began receiving applications for H-1B work visas, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service reported yesterday it had already received more than double the number of applications it is permitted by law to grant for 2008. The same limit took two months to reach last year.

While H-1B grants are officially capped at 65,000, USCIS reported receiving over 150,000 applications as of Monday afternoon.

H-1B visa applications are filed by US companies on behalf of the foreign-born individuals they seek to hire. Sponsored individuals need not be applicants for immigrant status - in other words, they need not be seeking US citizenship.

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After 65,000 applications have been processed, USCIS then makes exemptions for 20,000 more applications for individuals with master's or equivalent degrees.

But US law has already determined that it wouldn't be fair to applicants whose petitions were received on the day the cap was reached, to simply stop grabbing envelopes out of the hopper. So USCIS will hold a lottery for all H-1B petitions received Monday and Tuesday, allowing a computer to randomly select from those petitions until the cap is met.

But because USCIS received so many petitions, it stated -- maybe more than the 150,000 it has thus far counted -- it won't be able to hold the lottery perhaps for another several weeks.

Typically, USCIS grants extra exemptions to some applicants based (presumably) on merit. But this is the first time the agency of the US Dept. of Homeland Security has had to begin making those considerations this early. In 2005, the petition cap had been met in record time in mid-August; and in 2006, reportedly in late May.

Press sources in India believe that a major chunk of the FY 2008 petitions were filed on behalf of Indian student workers. Newspapers and blogs there today are criticizing US immigration policy. For instance, this editorial from the publisher of Desicritics.org takes the US to task for not having realized that, in the wake of the new communications revolution, all industry is global, and thus the notion that foreign scholars whose H-1B terms were fulfilled will simply export American knowledge to European and other competitive countries, is absurd.

Last month, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates testified before Congress that he believed as long as the US continues to deny foreign-born students access to American education, the country will "find it infinitely more difficult to maintain its technological leadership if it shuts out the very people who are most able to help us compete."

Meanwhile, opponents of the H1-B program argue that it encourages American companies such as Microsoft to not only outsource what USCIS calls "specialized services" to foreign countries, but to in effect raise and manage the outsourcing farm in-house, before harvesting its benefits offshore at lower wages.

Opponents contend the cost savings US companies is, in effect, paid for out of the pockets of displaced American workers.

USCIS says it has yet to examine the surplus of H-1B visa applications to determine which ones fall within the 20,000 "master's" automatic exemption. The agency may need a few days before it makes a further announcement.

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