The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on December 23 that the cap on H-1B visa applications for Fiscal Year 2010 had been reached. U.S. immigration law limits the number of H-1B visas to a total of 65,000 per year. In the past five years, this is the longest it has taken for the cap to be reached. In FY 2008 and FY 2009, the cap was hit within two days. Applications for H-1B visas are available annually starting at the beginning of April.
The USCIS announcement noted that the department possessed “sufficient petitions to reach the statutory cap,” which means that more than 65,000 applications have been received and the service will “apply a computer-generated random selection process to all petitions that are subject to the cap and were received on December 21, 2009.”
Many had expected that the USCIS would receive 75,000 petitions on April 1. However, in about a week it became apparent that this year would be different from others. In the past few years, immigrants from India have received over one-third of the visas.
As has been discussed in prior entries on this blog, H-1B visas are generally designated for immigrant professionals who possess specialized knowledge, such as doctors. The fact that it took so long to reach the cap may be a harbinger of things to come and certainly says something about the US economy and immigration, and how potential immigrants may view the United States.
One big question is how will the lag in visa applications affect a bill introduced in the U.S. House on December 15 by Representative Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL). There’s not a lot known about the specifics of Gutierrez’s legislation, but it has been reported by the Competitive Enterprise Institute that the bill, which is called the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, would exempt certain highly skilled applicants from caps. This could mean that opportunities for immigrants to enter and work in this country would expand greatly.
Under the bill, a new federal agency, the Commission on Immigration and Labor Markets (CILM), would be created. This CILM would make annual recommendations to Congress regarding the H-1B cap.
Traditionally, applications for H-1B visa have contracted with the economy and that may certainly be the case this year. Some also speculate that it’s U.S. anti-immigration sentiment that has curbed the flow of applications, while others believe that those in foreign countries see the U.S. in a negative light and that’s negating the number of petitions.
The new House Bill, this year’s slowdown in H-1B applications and the continued economic distress that still plagues this country are all worth monitoring by those doctors, and medical professionals looking to immigrate. Remember that immigration law is not a static entity and that it can change with attitudes, realities and the political process.