H-1B Visa Cap for 2011 Has Not Been Met Yet

Is it the economic slowdown or the recent visa fee increase that is keeping H-1B visa applications at bay? Fiscal year 2011 is coming soon, but there is still a big chunk of visa applications available.

With less than one month before fiscal year 2011 begins in October, there are about 30,100 available visas for technology companies to apply for through the temporary work visa program known widely by its specific government designation, "H-1B visa." The H-1B program is used by technology companies, universities and others in the United States to employ skilled foreign workers for temporary work installments usually lasting several years.

As of Aug. 27, there were 34,900 applications for H-1B visas out of a 65,000 cap that have been filed with the United States Customs and Immigrations Services--the government agency that oversees and manages visa programs, green cards and U.S. citizenship. For those temporary workers who are involved with Master's programs in U.S. universities and colleges, there have been 13,000 applications filed out of an available 20,000.

Will there be a surge of applications over the next three weeks? That's difficult to know, expressed USCIS spokesperson Chris Rhatigan to eWEEK during an interview, but it is likely that there will be more applications.

In 2007 and 2008, companies applied and workers petitioned for H1-B visas in droves when the opportunity to apply became available on April 1 of those respective years, but the last two years have seen a slowdown in immediate application activity, said Rhatigan. Much of the activity over the last two years has come after the 100 day mark of April 1.

There are, however, a few key factors that could be at play.

First, the economy is not rebounding as quick as many in the United States had anticipated, and hiring is slow in IT and cost controls are still in place on labor. Secondly, a new law has gone in effect that raises the application fees by more than $2,000 for companies that have more than 50 percent of its workforce using H-1B visas. This new law, which was attached to a border security measure signed by President Obama last month, has been called discriminatory against large outsourcing companies such as Infosys, Tata Consultancy and others in India and elsewhere in Asia.

The law does not affect large American companies such as Microsoft, Google and others who utilize H-1B visa workers. In 2008, the largest Indian outsourcers--Infosys, Wipro, Satyam and Tata Consultancy--dominated the visa count, followed by Microsoft and other American companies.

In fiscal year 2009, despite a slowdown in application activity, the visa caps of 65,000 and 20,000 for graduate degrees were met and represented .01 percent of the total national labor force of 154 million in the United States, according to the NFAP (National Foundation for American Policy).