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Cap on H-1B visas for tech workers is reached in five days

April 05, 2013|By Cindy Chang
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Friday that it had already received enough applications for H-1B visas to reach the cap of 85,000 for next year.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Friday that it had already… (Matt York / Associated Press )

American companies are so eager to hire highly skilled foreign workers that a cap on new visas has been reached within a matter of days.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Friday that it has received more than 85,000 applications from employers seeking visas for computer programmers, engineers, physicians and other educated workers with specialized skills. Of the total visas, 20,000 are set aside for people with graduate degrees from American universities. 

Because the 85,000 limit was exceeded within five days of the April 1 opening date, a lottery will be held to distribute the visas. A software engineer sponsored by Microsoft has the same chance of landing an H-1B visa as does a person hoping to work for an unknown company.

“It basically shows the main problem of this system, which is that there’s no way of prioritizing. When this takes place, it’ll cause a big frenzy,” said Neil Ruiz, an associate fellow at the Brookings Institution. “It just shows how H-1B has become a catch-all visa for all highly skilled immigrants.”

Last year, the cap was reached in just over two months. During the recession in 2010, the cap was not reached until late December. The last time a lottery was used was 2008.

The flurry of H-1B applications is a sign that the economy is improving. It is also a sign that the demand for highly skilled workers is far exceeding the supply of visas.

High-tech companies like Google and Microsoft are supporting a bill that would increase the cap depending on how many applications were submitted in previous years. The bill would also give green cards to foreigners with advanced science and engineering degrees from American universities.

With comprehensive immigration reform a realistic possibility this year, changes to the H-1B program may become part of a larger package.

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Twitter: @cindychangLA

cindy.chang@latimes.com

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