The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting applications on April 1 for the annual allotment of 65,000 H-1B visas. So far it's received about 13,500 applications, a big drop from the 42,000 H-1B requests filed during the same period last year, reports The Boston Globe.
The Globe interviewed H-1B critic Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology, who believes application numbers were higher in 2009 due to a pent-up demand from companies that didn't get the visas in 2008, when the H-1B quota was exhausted in just five days. That year, the USCIS received 163,000 applications for 85,000 available visas (65,000 "standard" H-1Bs plus an additional 20,000 reserved for applicants with advanced degrees).
The H-1B cap was reached in 2009, but not until December. A Computerworld article notes 5,600 H-1B applications for advanced degree- holders were received in the first week of filing this year.
I think Hira's theory makes sense. Companies that didn't get the visas in 2008 may have decided to capitalize on the slowing demand in 2009 and applied again. Also, the employment market tends to lag the overall economy. So while there are signs of recovery, companies likely won't pick up their hiring pace for a while. In fact, some of them may increase their investments in automation and not bring back some of the jobs they've eliminated.
Rebecca Peters, counsel for legislative affairs at the American Council on International Personnel, a pro-immigration lobbying group, says the decline in applications is a sign that visa usage is tied to overall job demand. With fewer jobs available, fewer companies want visas. She predicts there may be "a little bump" in applications later this spring, when foreign university students who may have obtained temporary jobs at companies get their degrees, possibly prompting their employers to file H-1B applications on their behalf.
In addition to economic factors, employers may be leery of hiring H-1B visa-holders due to the added paperwork required as the federal government steps up its efforts to reduce H-1B fraud. Though it seems unlikely to get anywhere in the current legislative environment, a 600-page sweeping immigration proposal introduced by Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, in December would also create piles of new paperwork for companies looking to employ foreigners.
I agree with Venture Chronicles blogger Jeff Nolan, whose opinion on the Startup Visa Act I cited last month, that complex requirements do little more than create work for lawyers, who not surprisingly are among the biggest backers of immigration reform.