The H-1B is a temporary, non-immigrant visa that allows US employers to petition for highly educated foreign professionals to work in specialty occupations that require at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent. The initial duration of an H-1B visa is three years, which may be extended for a maximum of six years. There are 65,000 visas available for new hire and 20,000 additional visas for foreign professionals who graduate with a Master’s or Doctorate from a U.S. university. In recent years demand for H-1B visas has exceeded the supply of such professional workers. The H-1B visa cap has been reached in the first five business days over the last several years. If the cap is hit during the first five business days, USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) conducts a lottery to determine which employers’ petitions for H-1B workers will be processed.
Total cost of filing an H-1B visa can be up to $6460 (depending upon the number of employees) as the basic filing fee has increased from $325 to $460 and public law fees have doubled. The previously active Public Law 111-230 has been replaced by the new Public Law 114-113. This increases the additional fee from $2,000 to $4,000 for employers that have over 50 workers with more than half of those under H-1B or L-1 status. USCIS begins accepting H-1B visa petitions on April 1 and because of the large number of petitions received the lottery may not remain open for more than 5 business days.
Aside from the demand from technology companies in Silicon Valley for H-1B workers, demand for such high-skilled workers is higher in metro areas where innovation industries flourish. Employers other than tech companies, such as Walmart, Merrill Lynch, ATT, Verizon, Caterpillar Inc., Credit Suisse, JPMorgan Chase., Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Mayo Clinic, among others, have been top H-1B employers.
There has been plenty of controversy regarding the abuse of H-1B visas. Critics of the program contend that its true purpose is to help big businesses cut costs by importing less expensive workers. This was apparently true at Walt Disney where 250 laid off IT workers were replaced by “some” lower paid H-1B workers. At UCSF (segment aired by CBS’ 60 minutes), dozens of IT workers were laid off and replaced by foreign workers in a move that would save UCSF $30M over 5 years. Abuse of the H1-B program is currently under investigation by the California legislature.
An executive order in the Trump administration is being worked on regarding the H-1B, business visitor visas, investor visas and work visas for those who qualify under the Dream Act. No details have been shared so far and the tech industry is very concerned about losing many future entrepreneurs who would create future jobs for Americans. The rules, as drafted, would likely tighten H-1B quotas, impose minimum salaries, heavy limitations on foreign students, eliminate spouses’ ability to apply for work, and enact measures curtailing the tech industry’s options to attract and keep talent. Spouses of H-1B visas H-1B visa holders waiting for green cards have been eligible to work in the U.S. on H-4 dependent visas. That may change as well with the executive order Trump is likely to sign in the upcoming months. However, University of California, Davis researchers say that H-1B workers across all professions generated 10% to 20% in annual productivity growth, adding $615 billion to the US economy between 1990 and 2010.