H-1B visa season begins: Chance to work in Silicon Valley inspires worldwide rush
April 1 is the first day to apply for one of America's 85,000 H-1B visas annually awarded to skilled temporary workers from abroad. The United States says it expects so much demand in the first few days that it might hit the yearly cap and have to give out the visas randomly to qualified applicants.
- The H-1B visa allows companies to hire foreign workers in "specialty occupations" such as computer science to work in the United States for three years. There's an annual limit of 85,000 new visas, with 20,000 reserved for workers with advanced degrees. And this year, as the tech economy improves, competition is expected to be tough. On Friday, March 29, 2013, employers and immigration lawyers began mailing out thousands of H-1B visa petitions to sponsor workers from around the globe. They aimed to get the paperwork in by Monday, April 1, the first day U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services begins processing applications.
- From Scotland to India, prospective U.S. workers who hope to make it to Silicon Valley and other American tech hubs announced their progress on social media. Some were nervous, others confident about being able to get a coveted work visa. Many are already in the country as students but need a work visa to stay. Others were recruited abroad, sometimes after working for a foreign branch of a U.S.-based company.
- One reason for nervousness is that the U.S. immigration agency warned on March 15 that this year, because of high demand, it might receive so many applications in the first week that it will hit the cap and have to draw winners using a random lottery for the first time since 2008.
- Workers who do obtain their H-1B visa this season will be able to work in the United States for three years beginning on Oct. 1. The visas can be renewed for another three years after that.
- Few expressed their frustration in recent days as openly as the American lawyers who file the applications on behalf of employers seeking to sponsor foreign workers.
- The beginning of H-1B season comes just as leaders in both branches of the U.S. Congress prepare to unveil comprehensive immigration legislation that, if passed, could reshape the future of the H-1B program. Some lawmakers have proposed expanding the number of skilled work visas. Others say the H-1B program undercuts the wages and jobs of U.S. tech workers, and that the decades-old program needs to be curbed or fixed. Opinions range on the controversial visas:
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