By Maria Sunantha Quibilan/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on Tuesday that the congressionally mandated cap of 65,000 for H1-B petitions has been reached for fiscal year 2009 (October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009).
In addition, the 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of persons exempt from the cap under the “advanced degree” exemption has also been met.
This means that USCIS will carry out a lottery or a “computer-generated random selection process” to determine which applications will be considered among the too many that were received for the visa program for skilled professionals.
On announcing that the quota had been met, the USCIS did not state the number of applications it had received for the 2009 fiscal year. It also did not announce the exact date on which it will conduct the random selection process, saying that the agency is unable to do so “due to the high number of petitions.”
The deadline for the filing of H1-B applications was Monday, April 7th. This is the second year in a row that the cap had been met in one day.
US business leaders have criticized the cap as too low and that it limits their ability to hire the highly educated workers that they need. They have urged Congress to increase the quotas, arguing that the country needs to bring in talent from abroad in order to remain competitive.
Big tech companies, for instance, like Microsoft and Oracle maintain that they have thousands of jobs available but cannot find qualified US applicants. According to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, the current cap on H1-B visas is far too low for the rapidly growing tech industry.
“Congress has failed to address the problem as US universities graduate highly educated individuals who leave to work in competitor nations,” said Robert Hoffman, Oracle executive and co-chair of Compete America, an organization that supports easier immigration laws.
On the other hand, critics of the H1-B program point out that overseas companies exploit the loopholes of the program in order to send their nationals to the US and pay them low wages, thus depriving Americans of employment.
“We can’t let powerful outside interests cloud our view of the harsh reality that highly skilled Americans are being passed over for jobs for cheaper, foreign labor,” Senator Charles Grassley said in a statement last week.
The H1-B visa program, which was launched in 1990, allows foreign workers in “specialty occupations” such as the arts, sciences and education, to be employed for up to six years, after which they must obtain permanent residency or return home. A large number of H1-B visa holders come from Asia. Across all recipients of new H-1B visas in fiscal year 2006, 54 percent were citizens of India, Korea and the Philippines.