H-1B Visa Applications Scarce, Like Jobs

Specialty work-visa applications reach six-year low

By Jackson West
|  Monday, Nov 2, 2009  |  Updated 2:30 PM PDT
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H-1B Visa Applications Scarce, Like Jobs

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Intel is one of the few companies that hasn't slowed down on sponsoring immigration applications for skilled foreign workers.

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Applications for H-1B work visas for specially trained and experienced foreign workers are down to the lowest levels since 2003.

18,300 visas out of a total quota of 65,000 remain available this year. In the past, they've been snapped up the same day they're offered, with multiple applications for each open spot.

Silicon Valley companies have long lobbied for higher quotas for H-1B visas, especially after those quotas were lowered by approximately two-thirds in the wake of the dot bomb. During the presidential campaign in 2008, former eBay CEO and current gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman called for the H-1B quotas to be raised.

But San Francisco-based immigration attorney Julie Pearl says her work has been cut in half this year. "In the financial industry, H-1B (applications) are down almost 75 percent," Pearl told the San Jose Mercury News.

That's because as part of the federal bailout of banks and other financial institutions, recipients of federal money are further restricted from hiring immigrants.

While the quota for 20,000 H-1B visas meant specifically for foreign students receiving graduate degrees from American universities has been met, that doesn't mean their prospects are necessarily bright.

With high unemployment in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, companies might feel social pressure to hire closer to home. And if a corporate sponsor decides to let an employee with an H-1B visa go, the employee may face deportation unless they can find a new job quickly.

Intel, however, has not slowed down in hiring immigrants, meaning it will probably have the pick of the graduating class.

However, fewer highly skilled immigrants moving to the United States may help boost the prospects for foreign economies, and make outsourcing by multinational technology and finance companies more attractive.

Jackson West doesn't particularly like employer sponsored visas because of the potential for abuse at the workplace.

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