Goel said there are some procedural reasons behind this increase. Companies that had foreign employees in the U.S. working on L-1B visas are, in some cases, moving these employees to H-1B visas because its standards are clearer and it offers more certainty about an employee's ability to work in the U.S. Goel also points out that once the immigration agency started demanding more documentation in support of H-1B visas this summer, many employers were caught off-guard and saw their petitions denied or moved to withdraw them.
"Many of those cases are now being re-filed since the employers have been able to gather the requested evidence in the intervening months," Goel said.
Seasonal demand may also be at work. H-1B petitions are also being filed for students who completed degree requirements this semester. Employers may also be acting now rather than risk waiting to next year and the possibility of a visa lottery, if demand exceeds the cap. The H-1B visa is at the heart of an intense debate.
Opponents view H-1B hiring as means to bring in young workers at lower wages and deprive U.S. workers of jobs, which was one of arguments made by the Programmers Guild in its lawsuit challenging an extension of the student visa program. Business proponents say they should be able to hire foreign students as easily as U.S. students.
Offshore firms in India depend on the visa to conduct business in the U.S., a practice that may be curbed if legislation by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) if a bill they get that limits visa holders, including L-1 visas, to half of workforce. The Indian firms see any effort to restrain visas as a trade issue; Grassley and Durbin have called it " legal discrimination ."
Regardless of reasons for or against the visa, Randall Sidlosca, an immigration attorney at Miami-based Fowler White Burnett PA, says he believes an improving economy is behind more H-1B petitions, because some of his clients are planning to ramp up their operations in 2010.