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H-1B demand this year will be fast, furious

Patrick Thibodeau | April 2, 2013
Proponents will call demand come April 1 evidence of need while opponents will emphasize offshore outsourcing is behind demand

WASHINGTON - The U.S. begins accepting new H-1B visa petitions on Monday, April 1, and fast demand is expected. This is going to be followed by much fury.

Industry proponents of the H-1B visa will argue -- at megaphone strength -- that high demand is evidence of both an improving economy and need for skilled workers.

Opponents will counter that H-1B visa employees are displacing U.S. workers, and will point in particular to H-1B visa demand by offshore outsourcing companies.

Immigration experts believe that visa demand this year will be high enough to cause the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to hold a lottery to decide who gets a visa and who does not. The last time this happened was in 2008.

This is how it works: The U.S. will likely treat the first five days of April as essentially one day. If, at the end of this period, the government gets more visas than can be met under the two caps, the 65,000-cap and the 20,000-cap for advanced degree holders from U.S., universities, it will use a lottery to distribute them. In 2008, the U.S. received 163,000 petition visas between the two caps.

The lottery will cause some to scream. In 2008, Google complained loudly that 90 of its 300 H-1B applications were rejected in the lottery.

The Senate's work on a comprehensive immigration reform bill will likely turn the visa lottery into a marquee exhibit for reform. Opponents are already making their case by pointing to some recently released U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) data.

H-1B opponents cite a wide range of problems with the visa, including wage pressure since most visa workers are hired at entry level. Age discrimination is an issue, as H-1B workers are generally younger. H-1B visa use by offshore outsourcers gets attention because of their increasing reliance on them. The visa has also emerged as a competitive issue for some domestic IT services firms.

Offshore outsourcing firms, not companies such as Google and even Microsoft, which is a large user, are the major users of H-1B visas. USCIS H-1B data analyzed by Computerworld makes this clear, but that finding is also backed by the DOL data that reports on Labor Condition Applications.

The IEEE-USA, which has been arguing for green cards instead of more H-1B visas, points to new Labor Department data that shows 10 organizations, all offshore outsourcing firms, applied for 112,739 positions in the first quarter of the federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, or about 64% of the applications. H-1B-using firms file Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the DOL, which reports the region an employee will be working in and the wage. H-1B workers are required to be paid prevailing wages.


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