In less than two months, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting H-1B applications for fiscal 2009. Most experts predict a rush similar to last year, when the cap was reached on the first day of eligibility.
The agency is doing what it can to streamline the process, including introducing an electronic notification system, so employers will find out sooner whether their petitions for visas were successful, reports InformationWeek. Also, according to the Pacific Daily News, the USCIS will devote dedicated resources to processing H-1B applications exempt from the standard cap, such as those from universities and nonprofits.
As the date approaches, I expect to see more debate about H-1Bs, both pro and con. But while just about everyone has an opinion, few folks offer possible solutions, other than the glaringly obvious and -- let's be honest -- overly simplistic idea of increasing the cap.
I think an idea floated last year by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE-USA) deserves a fresh hearing. Rather than raising the cap on H-1Bs, the IEEE-USA is encouraging the feds to allow more EB and F-4 immigrant visas, which put skilled workers on an expedited path toward permanent citizenship.
In theory, employers would find it tougher to get away with such abuses as underpaying foreign-born workers, one of the problems referenced in a Government Accountability Office report on H-1B visas. And such visas likely would be of little interest to Indian outsourcing companies like Infosys and Wipro, which are among the biggest recipients of H-1Bs.
I am also intrigued by a grass-roots proposal to create high-skill immigration zones in economically depressed U.S. cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, N.Y. As described in a letter from Cleveland immigration lawyer Richard Herman published on the Burgh Diaspora blog, H-1B restrictions would not apply to companies that establish operations in these zones.
The focus of the proposal, however, is to attract companies with jobs to the Rustbelt and similarly situated regions. These jobs are already being outsourced from the U.S. because of the unavailability of U.S.-born talent, and the near-impossibility of U.S. companies to import those workers into the U.S.
While Herman indicates he'd like such zones to become a part of broader immigration reform, he thinks a smaller proposal stands a better chance of winning political acceptance. (Indeed, many observers believe the sweeping nature of last summer's immigration reform bill is what killed it.)
A geographic-specific and geographic-limited immigration fix on high-end talent (the High Skill Immigration Zone) is likely to be more politically viable than a wholesale national amelerioration (sic) of immigration restrictions on immigrant talent.