Even though demand for H-1B visas fell sharply this year, the debate over the program that lets employers temporarily hire foreign technology and other specialty workers has continued to intensify, especially in Congress.
The federal government's fiscal year began today with some 66,700 H-1B visas set to be issued, and nearly 20,000 still available under the cap of 85,000. A year ago, the available issues were reserved long before the start of fiscal 2009 after the government received 163,000 visa petitions within days of April 1, 2008, the first day applications were accepted. Thus, the fiscal 2009 visa winners were selected via a lottery.
Despite the the waning interest in applying for visas as the economy declined, Congress is gearing up for what may be the final showdown over H-1B, arguably the most heated technology issue today. The status of the visa could be resolved for the long term during the debate expected during fiscal 2010 over comprehensive immigration reform.
A list of fiscal 2009's 10 top H-1B stories, as compiled by Computerworld, follows:
1. Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) filed the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2009. The bill, which has not yet faced a Congressional hearing, has already become the rallying point for H-1B opponents and a top concern for the technology industry as a whole. The sweeping measure would require companies to post all help wanted ads on the Internet, and first complete "good faith" efforts to fill the posted jobs with U.S. workers. The bill also includes new wage requirements which would raise the salaries of the lowest paid visa holders.
Indian offshore firms appear most concerned about the bill because it would limit the number of visa holders they could employ to 50 percent of their U.S. workforce. Durbin and Grassley are both members of the Senate subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security and positioned to influence any comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
2 : The continuing debate over a comprehensive immigration reform prior to the filing of a bill in Congress. Leading the debate is Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who heads the subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security and is an ardent supporter of the H-1B visa program. Schumer offered a tip about what he wants in a reform bill by inviting former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan to a committee hearing on immigration reform earlier this year. Greenspan called for an end to visa restrictions and said the H-1B cap protects tech workers from global competition. In fact, Greenspan called the U.S. tech workers a "privileged elite."