A cornerstone of both the President’s and Senate plans for immigration reform involve increasing the number of visas available for highly skilled workers that have been recruited by American companies.
The key bottleneck comes in when foreign citizens with a F1 visa — permission to study at an American university — graduate and try to transition to an H-1B visa, which allows those American-educated workers to work in the United States. If someone with an F1 visa can’t get an H-1B, they may take their U.S. education back home with them.
To even apply for the H-1B visa, a person with an F1 student visa needs a job offer in hand, a degree or 12 years work experience, $325, an employer willing to sponsor an H-1B visa and pay between $750 and $1,500 as a basic fee and up to $3,725 in additional fees and no less than seven individual documents.
Because there are mandatory caps on the number of H-1B visas — functionally 85,000, with few exceptions — many of these highly trained workers are denied permission to work in the United States, despite their abilities to generate value for the economy at nearly no impact to the average American worker.
Here are the statistics from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services regarding the number of applications for H-1B visas, and how often they’re denied, withdrawn and closed:
Photo: US CIS
As a result of caps on H-1B visas, 41,753 full petitions for temporary worker status were denied, withdrawn, or closed over the past four fiscal years.
Here’s a chart of this data:
Photo: Walter Hickey/BI, data from CIA
One major issue for these applicants — and a reason why the CIS stats may underestimate the number of students who want H-1B visas but are unable to get them — are the number of days it takes for the U.S. to hit the cap for H-1B visas.
Since demand exceeds annual supply, the U.S. runs out of H-1B visas sooner and sooner each fiscal year. The H-1B visa “season” begins on April 1st and ends once the U.S. hits the 85,000 cap.
Here’s how many days it took for the U.S to run out of H-1B visas each fiscal year (note that the fiscal year is different than the real year, so Fiscal year 2013 is almost over:
The decrease since 2011 is worrisome for firms that rely on U.S. educated foreign-born professionals.
A year’s worth of visas were all issued within two and a half months for fiscal year 2013. Companies that need a consistent inflow of these workers are aiming for a brief visa window that is getting much smaller.
This also means that the denial rates from the CIS may be an underestimation of the people the U.S. turns away.
Once the CIS announced that they had run out of visas on June 11, they stopped accepting — and thus denying — visa petitions, meaning that nine and a half months worth of visas are potentially unaccounted for.
As a result, American companies can’t plan for employment as well as they’d like. The new plans to increase the number of high skill visas allotted annually has thus received heaping praise from companies like Microsoft that need to import talent.
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