H-1B Annual Quota Starting to Fill

USCIS announced this week that 41,000 H-1B approvals have been issued against the basic annual cap allowance of 65,000. This rate of H-1B usage is very similar to last year, but is slow as compared to previous years, where the numbers were used up in the first week.

However, if past experience is any guide, the remaining 24,000 H-1Bs will move relatively quickly. Offhand, I’m estimating the cap will fill sometime in December or January, after which it will be closed again until October 2012 (with filing allowed by April 1st).  Now is the time to make an H-1B application.

The H-1B status is basically the United States’ college graduate employment based visa. Professionals with college degrees in defined fields, known as specialty occupations, can acquire H-1bs if they have a willing employer sponsor. There is a fair amount of expense to the process, which creates some inherent disincentive for employers to hire H-1B workers. Still, sometimes businesses cannot find qualified specialty occupation workers here in the U.S., or have a specialist they need from abroad.  The H-1B can be a terrific personnel solution in such cases.

The fixed cap really doesn’t serve a good purpose for U.S. businesses. As it stands, we’ll be looking at six months or more of H-1B unavailability in the coming year. H-1B employers do not typically look first to foreign workers, as the whole process is more expensive and administratively challenging than just hiring from within the U.S. However, when the personnel need is recognized–say in the case of a specialist doctor,r a specifically-trained engineer, or a specialized business executive–the cap really serves no good purpose, by creating an untimely artificial constraint on commerce.  A less rigid system than an absolute cap would serve business better, while still guarding the U.S. work force concerns adequately.