Employer Demand Soars for Skilled-Worker Visas

Miriam Jordan

Employer demand for skilled-worker visas, known as H-1Bs, outstripped the entire year’s supply in the first week that companies were allowed to file applications, prompting the government to resort to a lottery to award them.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that processes H-1B applications, said that since April 1 it has received more than 65,000 H-1B applications, the congressionally mandated limit.

Demand for another 20,000 H-1B visas, which are allocated to foreign nationals with advanced degrees from U.S. universities, also exceeded supply in a few days.

The government said it would accept no more H-1B applications for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Companies apply for an H-1B with a job candidate in mind, a process that typically involves immigration attorneys and costs several thousand dollars a petition. The H-1Bs are granted for three years but can be renewed for a total of six years.

U.S. businesses clamor for the visas to fill jobs that require technical expertise. Typically, H-1B holders are scientists, engineers and computer programmers. But they also work in advertising, banking and other areas.

The government said it hasn’t yet set a date for the computer-generated random selection process that will determine which companies can get visas for prospective employees. It also didn’t disclose how many applications in total it had received “as we continue to accept filings today,” according to a statement.

Demand for the visas, which plunged in the recession, began to rise two years ago. It took about 10 weeks to reach the cap last year and more than 33 weeks in 2011. A bipartisan Senate bill to overhaul immigration laws will likely seek a higher quota.

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