Wednesday, April 09, 2008

U.S. closed the door for H1B Applications

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service says it has stopped taking visa applications for skilled workers – seven days after the visa window opened for the 2009 fiscal year.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which wants companies to have wider and easier access to foreign workers, quickly complained that employers would have “a problem” filling jobs domestically and that bright foreigners would be less likely to want to study and work in the U.S.

At issue are 65,000 H1B visas available for employers seeking to bring in skilled workers for up to six years. There are an additional 20,000 H1B visas for foreign-born graduates of U.S. universities with master’s and doctoral degrees.

The visas are available for the year beginning Oct. 1, but employers are allowed to file applications six months early—which means April 1. The immigration service collected applications through April 7, when it concluded it had more than enough to fill its quota. It now will hold a random drawing to winnow down the applications.

The chamber pointed out that an employer who needs a specialized worker today couldn’t bring him or her to the U.S. for at least 18 months—until after the start of fiscal 2010.

In recent years, the immigration service has collected more than enough applications for the 65,000 skilled-worker visas within days of opening the visa window, but it has taken several months for employers to take up the 20,000 visas for U.S. university graduates. This year, both categories filled within days.

Employers have been leaning on Congress for years to lift the visa caps, and Congress is generally sympathetic. But the bills usually drown under the weight of amendments attached by groups representing other immigration issues, including legal status for illegal immigrants, in-state tuition for illegal-immigrant children and more seasonal work visas.

Three skills bill were introduced in the House this spring, but with little hope of a comprehensive reform bill any time soon, those bills also are likely to be magnets for other immigrant issues

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