Companies seeking H-1B temporary worker visas to bring skilled talent to the U.S. may be out of luck because of increased demand.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services warned Friday the number of H-1B visa petitions could exceed the annual allotment of visas only a few days after it begins accepting them on April 1. If that happens, the H-1B visas will be meted out based on a lottery.
The last time the USCIS went to an H-1B lottery was 2008.
“It’s a pretty big news item,” said Michael Hammond, an attorney with the Hammond Law Group in Cincinnati. Companies may already have workers — including recent college graduates — lined up to take jobs. “If they get rejected in the lottery, then all of a sudden they are out,” Hammond said.
H-1B visas are used by companies — including staffing firms — to bring in specialized professionals such as scientists, engineers, computer programmers, medical personnel and others. Federal law caps H-1B visas at 65,000. However, exempt from the cap are the first 20,000 H-1B petitions for workers with a U.S. master’s degree or higher.
The H-1B visa cap had been reached in one day in 2008, prompting the lottery that year. However, demand slowed for H-1B visas in the wake of the recession. It took approximately two-and-a-half months to reach the cap last year and seven-and-a-half months in 2011.
The cap is controversial.
“A system with limited numbers is tough to understand from an economic perspective and certainly harmful to U.S. employers,” Hammond said. “They’re not getting the employee they’ve chosen to hire.”
Until the USCIS’ announcement, it was felt the H-1B visa cap would not be reached until the end of April at the earliest.
In January, a bi-partisan group of senators proposed the H1-B visa cap be raised to 115,000.