No more migrant skilled workers for FY2015: All H1B Visas gone on April 7


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I have been writing about H1B visa in the past four years. This is the second year in a row since April 2008 that H1-B visas applications exceeded the 85,000 cap in the first few days. This FY 20015, the cap was reached on April 7. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency has received more than the required number of applications needed to fill the cap for the fiscal year as well as for the 20,000 H1-B petitions under the U.S. advanced degree exemption. This year USCIS will use a lottery system to choose petitions to consider for the visa.

Since the Immigration Act of 1990, there has been an annual cap on the number of H-1B visas that can be issued. While most aspects of the H-1B program have remained constant since its inception, the cap has fluctuated significantly.  The original 65,000 cap was not binding in the early 1990s but became so by the middle of the decade. Legislation in 1998 and 2000 sharply increased the cap over the next five years to 195,000 visas. The cap returned to the 65,000 level in 2004 and became binding again. The current annual cap is set at 65,000, with an additional 20,000 for holders of advanced degrees.

The increase of demand for H1B visas indicates a recovery in the US job market for skilled workers. Employment of foreign-born workers remains more responsive than native-born workers. Employment rates for both groups fell during the crisis in 2009, but since early 2011 migrant employment has recovered faster than the employment of native workers (Figure).

According to the employment situation of March 2014 released by the Bureaus of Labor Statistics (BLS), there has been an Increase in demand in sectors in which high skilled foreign born are concentrated. New jobs were added in professional and business services, especially in computer systems design.

 Figure: US employment is recovering faster for migrant workers than for natives

 Some characteristics of the H-1B applications indicate that:

  • Foreign high-skilled workers are concentrated in the high tech sectors, in business services and engineering services and located in the states with large foreign-born residents such as California, New York, Texas and New Jersey.
  • The top 6 largest occupations for visa requests include: computer and systems analysts, software developers, computer programmers, computer occupations, software developers and accountants and auditors.
  • The largest employers are located in California, New York, Texas and New Jersey. The American subsidiaries of Indian IT companies are the biggest users of this visa, accounting for more than thirty eight percent of the quota.  These companies are: Cognizant Technology Solutions US Corporation which filled for 22,599 visas, Wipro limited that filled for 10,021, and Cisco Systems, Inc that requested 4,256 visas.


Sonia Plaza

Senior Economist, Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, World Bank

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