H-1B Demand Again Exceeds Supply, Leads Some to Seek Alternatives


The numbers are in from this year's lottery for H-1B visas and, as expected, the number of requests far surpassed the number available.


The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received 163,000 applications during the five-day period it accepted them, reports InformationWeek. Of those, 31,200 were for the exempted category of foreign students with advanced degrees from U.S. schools.


The total bested last year's 133,000 requests -- though the USCIS accepted them only for two days in 2007. Yet there were more requests in the exempted category. Nearly two weeks after it stopped accepting applications last year, the USCIS had received fewer than 13,000 applications for the slots reserved for those with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions. The annual cap for that category is 20,000, while there are 65,000 slots available for general H-1B visas.


The computerized random selection process used to approve visa petitions should begin this week, according to InformationWeek, with those for the advanced degree exemption awarded first.


Though tech companies are still pushing for an increase in the annual H-1B cap, the USCIS did implement some rule changes to boost companies' chances of getting the coveted documents. Companies can no longer file multiple petitions for the same worker, reports Computerworld. And advanced-degree holders who are not selected for the exempted category of H-1Bs will then be added to the general lottery.


With the demand outpacing the available supply of H-1Bs so dramatically, it's no surprise that some companies are seeking alternative methods of employing foreign workers. One of those alternatives, as I blogged last month, is the L-1 visa.


Robert Meltzer, an attorney specializing in immigration issues and CEO of online immigration processing company VISANOW, clarified the differences between the H-1B and the L-1 in our interview earlier this month. Unlike H-1Bs, there is no cap on L-1 visas. But they can be awarded only to multi-national companies. Says Meltzer:

This obviously opens a new door on a much larger immigration opportunity for companies with foreign locations and subsidiaries than those that are solely operating in the U.S.

There are two types of L-1s: one for managers or executive-level employees only and another for other workers with specialized knowledge relevant to a particular position. In both categories, applicants must have worked for the foreign entity for one out of the last three years, says Meltzer.


L-1s are not the only H-1B alternatives, notes Meltzer. He mentioned several others, including: the TN visa, available to Canadian and Mexican citizens coming to the U.S. to perform professional activities; the O visa, for business and science professionals who exhibit extraordinary ability; and the E visa, for foreign workers from countries that signed the Friendship, Commerce, Navigation (FCN) treaty with the U.S.


Due to the intense competition for H-1Bs, Meltzer advises companies to investigate all hiring alternatives available to them. He says:

... a more strategic approach to hiring foreign nationals often involves finding alternatives that work for a company's specific hiring situation. By taking time to explore alternatives, companies can pre-determine the best method for hiring foreign nationals as part of their workforce and be best positioned to bring them on seamlessly. Many employers do not realize that there are a number of viable options to consider when hiring foreign workers, but those that do definitely have an edge regarding their global hiring.