January 07, 2008

Race for H-1B visas begins

On April 1, 2008, large and small employers alike will vie for H-1B visas for their foreign national staff who are foreign born. Earmarked for professional workers who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, these visas allow qualified foreign nationals to work in the U.S. temporarily for the U.S. employers who apply for them. Although any business can qualify, the science, engineering, technology and healthcare industries are the heaviest users of these visas, allowing the employment of foreign born engineers, computer professionals, researchers, doctors and other medical professionals.

Employers will compete for the limited supply of H-1B visas dispensed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service. The USCIS begins issuing its new allotment of H-1B visas October 1 each year. But because employers can apply six months in advance, a frantic race for the visas begins April 1. Last year, all the professional foreign worker permits had been snapped up on the first day, with over 100,000 applications filed for 65,000 slots, causing the USCIS to conduct a “lottery” to determine which applicants would win those slots. Of course, those companies that lost the lottery suffered, lacking access to foreign workers—particularly those with access to special skills and technological expertise—who could fill shortages in the U.S. workforce.

With there being such a high demand and low supply for the special work visas, we urge employers to act quickly and get the right information regarding options for hiring and retaining foreign born professionals. Identify your foreign national new hires early and determine an immigration plan for them before April 1. H-1B visas are a hot commodity among employers large and small. The special permits, allocated to professional workers with at least a bachelor’s degree, enable qualified foreign nationals to work in the country temporarily for the U.S. employers who apply for them. The visas are most commonly used in the science, engineering, technology and healthcare industries, facilitating the employment of foreign born engineers, computer professionals, researchers, doctors and other medical professionals.

Despite the fact that 18 percent of our scientists and engineers and 15 percent of our health care workers are foreign nationals, the government only releases 65,000 new visas per year. This is hardly enough to satisfy the need for nearly 100,000 visas per year. Savvy employers must plan now to capture those visas for their foreign national employees or potential employees, especially those who are new graduates of U.S. universities.

-By Ann Massey Badmus