The competition for a limited amount of H-1B visas — which many Silicon Valley tech firms use to temporarily bring in skilled foreign workers — is expected to heat up this year despite efforts by the Trump administration to overhaul the program.
“Volume is expected to be high again this year, in part because of the usual factors such as skills shortages, a strong economy and low unemployment,” wrote Berry Appleman & Leiden, an immigration law firm, in a newsletter this week.
Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Apple and Intel, argue they need the visas to hire highly skilled foreign tech workers they can’t find in the United States. These companies also contract with information technology workers from Indian outsourcing firms such as Infosys, WiPro and Tech Mahindra, which had large numbers of approved H-1B visas in Fiscal Year 2016.
But the visa program has also faced criticism, including from lawmakers, that it’s being abused and used to displace American workers with cheaper foreign labor.
Even so, the nation’s robust job market can make it tough to find enough American workers to fill many roles that require special skills, attorneys say. That means many companies could be clamoring for H-1B visas again this year.
Law firm Morgan Lewis wrote this month that it’s expecting high demand for H-1B visas this year because of “an improving economy and an increasing demand for qualified workers, especially in the financial services and information technology industries.”
Some employers also might be planning to file H-1B applications this year before anticipated changes to the program.
“While the Trump administration has signaled that changes to the H-1B program are in the works, it does not appear likely that the administration will have time to make substantial changes to the H-1B filing or allocation process before fiscal year FY2019 cap season begins,” wrote Berry Appleman & Leiden.
On April 2, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will start accepting applications for a limited number of H-1B visas, which have an annual cap of 85,000. The agency uses a computer-generated lottery to select enough petitions to meet the limit, which is typically reached days after the filing period starts.
The Trump administration and lawmakers have signaled that the program could face an overhaul.
In April, the president signed an executive order called “Buy American, Hire American” that asked federal agencies “to suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”
Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers have been moving forward with a bill that’s expected to make it harder for outsourcing firms to bring highly skilled foreign workers to the United States.
This week, though, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said it was unclear whether efforts to overhaul the H-1B visa program “have really moved the needle when it comes to protecting American workers.”
“American workers are increasingly at risk because the United States admits so many foreign workers,” said Grassley, who has been a long-time critic of the visa program, during a committee hearing.
Last year, USCIS received 199,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period. Although it received far more applications than the number of visas available, that marked a 16 percent drop compared to the 236,000 H-1B petitions the agency received around the same period in 2016.
Law firms are advising employers to prepare for the upcoming lottery season by finalizing job offers for potential H-1B employees who plan to start work on Oct. 1, collecting documents and exploring alternatives to the temporary work visa.
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