As I wrote back in April, applications for H-1B visas got off to a slow start. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services got about 13,500 applications in the first two weeks it accepted them, a big drop from the 42,000 H-1B requests filed during the same period in 2009.
The USCIS has received an additional 5,000 or so applications since then. That's far off the pace of 2007, when the number of applications exceeded the 65,000 annual limit on the first day the USCIS began taking them, and 2008, when the USCIS got 163,000 H-1B applications in five days.
The Economic Times credits the H-1B slowdown to a number of factors, notably the Employ American Workers Act, a piece of legislation enacted in February that imposes hiring restrictions on recipients of funding through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). I'm sure the legislation has something to do with it, but I don't think it plays that big a role, considering it applies to a fairly small number of companies. (Those that have repaid TARP funds no longer have to comply, for example.)
The article points out that Indian outsourcing providers are taking advantage of the still-slow job market and hiring more American workers to work in the U.S. Tata Consultancy Services increased the U.S. workforce at its Cincinnati application development center from 75 to 300. (When TCS opened the center in 2008, press reports indicated the center would employ up to 1,000 people. The economic slump may have slowed TCS' plans and/or it employs far more Indian nationals than U.S. citizens in Ohio.)
Wipro plans to increase American employment to 40 percent of its U.S. workforce. (The article doesn't indicate the current breakdown.) It quotes Chairman Azim Premji as calling this increase "good insurance against any more restrictive visa policies." It "also positions [Wipro] well for certain state government business."
According to the article, Indian companies received 4,762 H-1B visas last year, down from 20,530 in 2006. Only four Indian companies were among the top 10 H-1B applicants, down from eight in 2006. It predicts up to 20,000 H-1B holders may return to India within the year. Though salaries are lower in India, job growth is more likely there with Indian companies spending more on IT than their Western counterparts.