The application process for skilled- worker (H-1B) status in the United States begins in April and for the first time since the recession hit in 2008, employers are expected to reach the limit on annual visas within a matter of days.
U.S. companies can sponsor a total of 65,000 visas for skilled workers every year, and many of the requests come from the technology sector. The visas allow highly trained or highly skilled foreign workers to hold jobs within the U.S.
Government and company officials predict the quota will be reached by Friday, April 5, according to the Wall Street Journal. The last time employers reached the limit in less than a week was 2008. Demand for the program has increased in the past two years as the economy has rebounded and companies have accelerated overall hiring.
The U.S. H-1B visa program is highly controversial. Detractors claim U.S. workers are being displaced by foreign workers and that H-1B visa holders are underpaid. Proponents of the visas argue that immigrants are prized innovators for the domestic technology industry and the U.S. labor pool would stagnate without the annual inflow of new talent.
An immigration reform bill currently in the U.S. Senate would amend the H-1B program, closing loopholes in the application process. Some companies don’t review their visa holders’ qualifications on a regular basis. H-1Bs are granted for three years but can be renewed for a maximum of six years.
The government plans to keep the cap at 65,000 visas in 2014. Among companies lobbying Congress to increase the number of H-1B visas is Intel, WSJ reports.