Friday, October 01, 2004

Here we go again

The H-1 visa is a work permit that allows foreigners to work full-time in the US (student internships are different). There is a quota of 65,000 H-1 visas each year; these are issued starting in October and continue to be issued until the quota runs out.

In the late 90s, in response to the growing tech boom and the need for extra manpower, Congress agreed to increase the limit to 195,000 for a three year period, ending in 2002. This was necessitated by an absurd situation where people had to apply for visas in March to have any hope of being far enough along in the queue to get a visa by October. Since most graduating students only got jobs in May/June....

The end of the three-year period coincided with the tech crash, and the extra quota was no longer needed. Plus, with outsourcing quickly becoming a political hot potato, it became politically infeasible to keep a larger quota.

And so here we are today, having come full circle (emphasis mine):
A federal official on Friday said the annual limit for the controversial guest worker program has been met for fiscal year 2005, which runs from Oct. 1, 2004, to Sept. 30, 2005. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes applications for the H-1B program, is no longer accepting petitions for visas for initial employment for this fiscal year, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The visas, which allow skilled foreign workers to work in the United States for up to six years, have frequently been used by technology companies. That the cap has been reached as of the first day of the fiscal year is sure to stir up debate over the visa program. Businesses are seeking an exemption from the annual cap for foreign students graduating from U.S. schools with master's and doctorate degrees. Labor groups oppose the proposal.

If you are reading this and wondering why you should care, here's why:
  1. If you are a graduating foreign student, you have to plan your job search very carefully. Given that you will probably have to file an H-1 application in Mar/Apr, you need to have a job lined up as well as a commitment from your employer to file for the visa.
  2. If you are involved in any way in recruiting in an academic or corporate setting, you should know that any foreigner you hire will have this problem, and so you need to be able to act quickly on filing their visa petition. Since most students typically only have a year's worth of grace via their student visa, you only get one shot and filing the H-1 petition.
Although I now have this thing, I spent my share of time in H-1 hell. It is not pleasant.

Update: A reader points out:
The H-1B cap doesn't apply to nonprofit educational institutions (such as universities)

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