How Foreign Workers Help the U.S. Economy - A Closer Look at the H-1B Visa

479608_shaking_hands.jpgImmigration topics have dominated the news in the past couple of years, with much of the attention focused on prospective immigration in Congress and the various employment-related immigration options for foreign workers. One of the most frequently discussed employment visas is the H-1B visa, which is a highly popular visa that allows foreign workers to seek employment in the U.S. for a maximum period of six years (though there are exceptions to this six-year maximum).

While the H-1B visa is a great option for U.S. employers who are seeking to hire foreign workers, it is not without its disadvantages, most notably the arbitrary limitation on how many H-1B visa applications may be approved each year. Congress has mandated that only 65,000 applications can be approved ever year (with an additional 20,000 applications that are reserved for foreign workers who possess a Master's degree from a U.S. university). This limitation is referred to as the "H-1B cap."

The H-1B cap poses a unique problem to foreign workers and the U.S. employers who wish to hire them because almost every year since the cap was put into place, the demand for H-1B visas greatly exceeds their supply. In 2013, the agency that reviews and approves H-1B visas petitions, called U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), received more than 124,000 applications. Since only 65,000 of these could be approved, nearly half of the H-1B applicants could not and did not receive visas.

Because of this result from the H-1B cap, U.S. employers and immigration advocacy groups have been lobbying Congress for years in efforts to spur the House and Senate to increase the yearly cap (or even get rid of the cap altogether). Currently, Congress is not seriously entertaining these ideas.

Since the H-1B cap is adversely affecting U.S. employers' abilities to retain talented workers, the U.S. economy and the country's businesses are suffering. Recently, a news article reported that the American high-tech industry members are stating that Congress's stance on keeping the H-1B cap is costing the U.S. the opportunity to create one new job opportunity for an American worker every 43 seconds.

To help publicize this statistics, Compete America - an organization that advocates for foreign workers' rights - has put a calculator on their website that shows the number of American jobs that are not created or lost because of visa restrictions.

There are other organizations who argue that visa restrictions such as the H-1B cap hurt the U.S. economy. For instance, a Dartmouth College economist named Matthew Slaughter has said that the H-1B cap alone has resulted in the loss of 100,000 new jobs last year, and that this amount goes up to 500,000 if indirect job creation loss is counted.

There is existing opposition to raising the H-1B cap. Most opponents argue that there is not a shortage of talented workers in the U.S., and use current lay-off and unemployment statistics to bolster their claim. They conclude that because American workers are not finding jobs, then hiring foreign workers lengthens unemployment periods.

If you are a U.S. employer seeking to employ a foreign worker or a foreign national seeking to find a job in the U.S., contact our office at 650-293-0270 to speak to a member of our legal team about your options.

Additional Blog Posts

Foreign Visitors Help Stimulate The U.S. Economy, Silicon Valley Immigration Lawyer Blog, February 14, 2013
Immigrant Enterpreneurs Could See Their Visa Options Expand, But Only Slightly, Silicon Valley Immigration Lawyer Blog, August 11, 2011

H-1B Visas / by Michelle Gee