Immigration reforms are the focus in the UK elections and in the USA Senate elections for this year. Both countries are yet to come to grips with the need to develop consistent policy frameworks in which immigrants can effectively and productively utilize their skills, knowledge, and previous work experience. Both countries are trying to identify measures on how to better deal with undocumented migrants and how to devise laws for low-skilled workers and for high-skilled workers.
In the UK, prime ministerial candidates have proposed the following approaches to undocumented migrants: 1) Gordon Brown’s proposal is to ban unskilled workers from outside Europe and cut the numbers of semi-skilled and skilled workers to enter into UK; 2) David Cameron proposes that “new countries that join the European Union should have transitional controls so not everyone can come at once. Regarding immigration from outside the European Union, there needs to be a cap”; and 3) Nick Clegg puts forward a proposal for "earned citizenship" for those who have lived illegally in Britain for at least 10 years, who speak English, who want to pay taxes and who want to play by the rules. (Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is promoting amnesty for undocumented workers.)
The slow recovery of the US economy is affecting the hiring of high-skilled immigrants. This lower demand is reflected in fewer applications for H1-B visas. The current annual cap is set at 65,000, with an additional 20,000 for holders of advanced degrees. The present crisis is exhibiting similar characteristics as the 1991 downturn: 1) Lower demand for new foreign high-skilled workers. US firms are not recruiting overseas; and 2) Lower demand for foreign high-skilled graduates of US universities.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) put out a statement on April 08, 2010 that “it has received approximately 13,500 H-1B petitions counting toward the Congressionally-mandated 65,000 cap during the first two weeks of April 2010.” (See USCIS - USCIS Continues to Accept FY 2011 H-1B Petitions). That’s far fewer than the 42,000 requests filed during the same period last year (See post). Unlike in previous years, foreign graduates of US universities are not finding jobs in US. The applications for foreign workers with advanced degrees have only reached 5,800 applications by April 15, 2010.
This is the second year that the annual quota for H1B visas has not been filled during the first week of April. Since the recession worsened in late 2008, the annual quota has remained open longer than in the previous years (see graph below). For the US 2010 fiscal year (the fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends on September 30), it took until December 21, 2009 to fill the quota (280 days). In 2009, it closed in one day and in 2008, it closed in two days. Only in 2004, when the quota was reduced from 195,000 to 65,000, there were still visa slots available as of October 1, 2003 (323 days). It seems that for the 2011 fiscal year, the annual quota will remain open longer than last year.