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Visa Quotas Impact Skilled International Workers

By:  Santiago J. Padilla, Esq.

Even as the United States experiences its worst recession in decades, and unemployment remains higher than it has been for years, there are still a shortage of skilled workers in the fields of science, medicine and computer technology. Many companies and organizations often utilize international workers to fill these skilled worker positions. Unfortunately, obtaining a visa to bring, or keep, foreign nationals in the United States is becoming more and more difficult.

The most common type of visa for skilled foreign nationals is the H1B visa. An H1B visa is often given to "professional workers" in medicine, science, computers, architecture or engineering. It allows a foreign national to work in the United States for three years, with the option for a three year extension. Unfortunately, it is becoming more difficult to obtain an H1B visa, due to the H1B visa quota.

The H1B visa quota, set by the federal government, caps the number of H1B visas issued at 65,000 annually, with another 20,000 exemptions for foreign nationals who hold a master's degree earned at an American university. While that sounds like a lot of open slots, they tend to fill up very quickly. For example, in 2012 the H1B visa quota was exhausted by June, preventing potentially thousands of workers from entering the United States to work. In previous years, when employers were not hiring due to the economic downturn, the quota was not such an issue. Now, however, as the economic situation has improved, the H1B visa quota has been reached earlier and earlier each year.

Every year, any foreign nationals looking to work in the United States may apply for an H1B visa beginning on April 1. Certain employers, like non-profit organizations, universities and other educational institutions may be excepted from the quota. However, for the most part, most foreign workers must apply for the visa and hope that they make the cut.

The process of obtaining documentation for the H1B visa application can cost in excess of $5,000, with no guarantee that the worker will be successful in obtaining a visa. The government is reviewing applications with a fine-tooth comb at the moment. They are looking microscopically at the sponsor of the applicant to make sure it is a legitimate employer, including deep background checks and ensuring that the job offer is legitimate.

At the moment, there is still a significant need for skilled foreign workers. While it would be much cheaper and easier for American companies to hire American workers, it is just not possible because there are not enough skilled American workers. Despite this need, it is unlikely that the H1B visa quota will be increased. With millions of Americans out of work, no politician wants to be the one who allows more foreign nationals to work in the United States, even if it is for jobs that lack qualified American candidates. In addition, any type of legislation regarding legal immigration issues in recent years has been supplanted by the illegal immigration debate.

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If you have any questions regarding professional worker visas or any other immigration law issues, please do not hesitate to contact me, Santiago J. Padilla, Esq., either at 800-483-7197, at spadilla@frfirm.com, or on the internet.

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