Slow Economic Recovery Dampens Demand for H-1B Visas

The slow pace of the economic recovery is dampening enthusiasm for the once popular H-1B visa.

The number of applications for the once-coveted H-1B visa, which allow foreign nationals to work in the United States, has dropped significantly this year as the pace of the country's economic recovery has stagnated, the Wall Street Journal reported. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services told the paper that 8,000 H-1B petitions were received from businesses in April, down 16,500 petitions in April 2010 and around 45,000 that were filed in April 2009.

The H-1B visa is highly coveted by employees in high-tech industries and has been a mainstay of many companies looking to employ foreign workers. However, after the financial crisis, the number of applications dropped sharply-in 2008, before the financial crisis, all 65,000 visas were snapped up on the first day they were available. The high cost of obtaining the visa-fees and the cost of a lawyer can top $9,000-have also put a damper on the number of applications.

In addition, a changing global economy, where upcoming nations such as India and its booming IT industry are offering its citizens new opportunities at home, is making potential immigrants rethink their prospects in America. "Ten years back, I had this 'nothing will change in our country' attitude," software engineer Nutan Kunduri told the paper. "For an IT professional like me, India is the place to be, with its booming tech industry."

In theory, the maximum duration of the H-1B visa is six years. H-1B holders who want to continue to work in the United States after six years but who have not obtained permanent residency status must remain outside the United States for one year before reapplying for another H-1B visa. While frequently described as a program for highly skilled workers, the H-1B nonimmigrant visa category specifically applies to specialty occupations. Typical H-1B occupations include architects, engineers, computer programmers, doctors, business managers and college professors.

Last week, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis announced the availability of approximately $240 million through the H-1B technical skills training grant competition. The U.S. Department of Labor expects to fund 75-100 grants through a single solicitation. Individual grants will range from $1 million to $5 million and will be distributed through two rounds of funding. The department said the projects to be funded will help workers update current skills or acquire new ones so they can enter career pathways leading to higher-paying jobs.

"This administration is committed to getting all Americans back to work and into good jobs. These grants will create important opportunities for those who may still be searching for work after many months of unemployment," said Solis. "As they seek out new careers in promising industries, our nation's workers need and deserve access to quality training and employment services. The H-1B technical skills grant competition will help make that possible."

The Labor Department also said it intends to award at least $150 million to grantees that provide on-the-job training to all participants. The remaining funds will be awarded to applicants that offer other training strategies. At least $45 million of the total will be awarded to applicants providing training for occupations in the health care industry and at least $60 million will be awarded to applicants serving individuals experiencing long-term unemployment.