A five-word summary of the current state of H-1B visas in the U.S.: There aren't enough of them. As I wrote last month, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services got 163,000 applications during the five days it accepted them, far more than the 65,000 annual cap. It also got 31,200 requests for H-1Bs for foreign students with advanced degrees from U.S. schools, exceeding the annual cap of 20,000 for that category.
As I wrote in my blog, the shortage is leading some companies to explore alternatives like L-1 visas. Others continue to hope for legislative relief. That doesn't appear to be forthcoming, however.
The problem, according to a Republican official quoted in a recent News.com story, is that Democrats have given broad veto power over immigration legislation to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. That group is reportedly willing to vote down any H-1B-related legislation until illegal immigration and other issues important to its constituents are addressed.
I think immigration needs to be addressed at both ends of the scale -- the degreed professionals seeking high-skill jobs in the U.S. and the largely uneducated folks that come to the U.S. to find service jobs. But I question the wisdom of trying to do both in a single piece of legislation. Its sweeping nature was a big part of what killed last summer's immigration reform bill.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat representing tech-heavy California, is approaching the high-skills immigration issue from a different angle, with bills designed to help skilled professionals more easily obtain green cards. The latest bill, reports Computerworld, would exempt graduates from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in science and technology from the 140,000 annual limit on green cards.
An earlier Lofgren bill would eliminate per-country caps on employment-based visas, which tend to impose longer waits on students from populous countries like China and India.
I've written before about the green card backlog, with recent research indicating that half a million foreign workers and their families -- about a million folks total -- are currently waiting for the coveted documents. While H-1Bs command much of the publicity, employees waiting for green cards is also a major problem for employers like Microsoft. That company's director of federal government affairs tells Computerworld that some 4,000 Microsoft workers are trying to get green cards.
Even staunch H-1B opponents like Ron Hira, whom I interviewed last spring, appear to favor allowing more green cards. He told me:
You've got people who are very smart and they want to stay here, but there are interminable waits of six, eight, 10 years. That's unacceptable. I am actually in favor of increasing the green card quotas and having a more rational program.
Hira makes similar statements in the Computerworld article, saying that more green card-holders shouldn't negatively impact American workers, assuming reform is handled "the right way."