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Annual quota for H1-B visas exhausted

Indira Kannan  |  Toronto 

If the US is facing economic headwinds, these certainly aren’t blowing towards the high-tech sector. On Tuesday, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, announced the cap on H1-B visas for 2012-13 had been touched, the earliest the annual quota of 85,000 was exhausted in the last few years.

According to the USCIS, it had received enough petitions to reach the statutory annual cap of 65,000 H1-B visas on June 11. The agency also announced the additional cap of 20,000 H1-B visas for those securing advanced degrees from US universities had been reached on June 7.

The time taken to reach the cap this year marks a dramatic improvement over the past three years. After the economic slowdown in September 2008, it had taken seven to ten months to hit H1-B caps in 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, against just under two and a half months this financial year.

Dates on which H1-B visa aps were reached in recent years
FY09 7-Apr-08
FY10 21-Dec-09
FY11 26-Jan-11
FY12 22-Nov-11
FY13 11-Jun-12

The demand for H1-B visas this year shows the US economy is healing, says Vivek Wadhwa, fellow at California’s Ivy League Stanford Law School. Wadhwa has done extensive research on immigrants and their impact on the American economy. “Silicon Valley is booming, companies are hiring and are desperate to find qualified workers,” he says.

The number of petitions for H1-B visas this year stands out against the largely negative economic in the US recently. The employment scenario worsened in May, with only 69,000 jobs added, a sharp drop from earlier months and a figure well below economists’ expectations.

New York-based immigration lawyer Cyrus Mehta believes some segments, like information technology and related sectors, have recovered better than the rest, leading to strong demand for H1B visas. “It’s not just Google and Facebook,” says Mehta. “New York is now second to Silicon Valley, and they are developing mobile applications and the like, and there is a hunger for highly skilled workers.”

He believes many employers, faced with growing difficulties in securing L1-B visas, may have resorted to H1-B petitions instead, driving up demand for this category of visas this year. He points to greater scrutiny of L1-B applications at US consulates in India, especially in Chennai, which he complains has indulged in “wholesale arbitrary denial of L1-Bs”. While there have also been complaints about denial of H1-B visas to Indian applicants, Mehta says it was not as difficult to get an H1B visa approved this year, compared to 2010. That year, the USCIS had released a document known as the Neufeld Memo, which cracked down on H1B workers at third-party client sites. “This year, there has been some reinterpretation regarding the Neufeld Memo,” says Mehta, though he insists causes for complaints remain.

Wadhwa, who says complaints about denial of H1-B and L1B visas are “legitimate”, argues in favour of doing away with the cap on H1-B visas. By not letting its companies hire the talent they need, the US is “committing national suicide”, he says.

For now, the renewed pick-up in demand for H1-B visas is a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economic scenario, both in the US and in India.

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First Published: Thu, June 14 2012. 01:06 IST