The cooling market for H-1B visas

U.S. employers hit cap for H-1B visa petitions for fiscal year 2011 in 10 months -- the longest duration since 2004

Late last week, the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) announced that it has reached the statutory cap for H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2011. If all these petitions are granted, this means the USCIS has hit the limit of 65,000 visas for this year, nearly 10 months after the application window opened -- the longest stretch since 2004. Chalk it up to a still-slow economy with weak hiring numbers, H-1B related or otherwise, as the statutory limit was reached in a month or two (or sometimes even in a matter of weeks) during healthier economic times.

As always, the announcement has stirred up a round of debate on whether the quota should be changed, whether the cap should be in place at all, and whether the United States should be giving out H-1B visas to begin with. Labor groups say the visas take jobs away from American workers, and they argue that in this economic climate with so much unemployment, domestic workers should be given top priority before companies turn to foreign labor.

Business groups, meanwhile, say the H-1B program is necessary for bringing in the best candidates possible and argue that if anything, we need more H-1Bs as the economy recovers in order to have the best workers employed by U.S. companies.

Even the U.S. GAO (Government Accountability Office) is getting in on the act, calling for more Congressional oversight and an overhaul of how the system works.

For its part, Congress is debating a bill that would create a new visa and expand the H-1B program, while Sen. Chuck Schumer says the H-1B program has created "multinational temp agencies." In addition, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa recently introduced legislation that would help up to 55,000 foreign workers obtain green cards, which would mean workers' legal status wouldn't be tied to a company-sponsored visa.

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