With just about a fourth of the annual quota for the once-coveted H1B visas applied for till the third week of April, this year may witness the first time that the cap may not be reached in recent years since the numbers were substantially reduced in 2004.
As with recent years, the number of available H1B work visas for the fiscal year 2011 is 65,000 under the regular category and 20,000 for those with Master’s degrees from American educational institutions. But according to figures from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services updated till April 22, there were just over 16,000 eligible petitions for the former and about 6,700 for the latter.
With the US economy yet to recover from a financial meltdown and unemployment remaining high, this unusual lack of demand is a trend that was first evidenced last year. The cap for fiscal 2010 was only reached on December 21, 2009.
There could be more of a delay this year, if, in fact, the cap is even reached. Leading New York-based immigration lawyer Cyrus Mehta said, “The cap may not be reached in the fiscal year unless there’s some pick up in the economy.”
The cap was not reached in 2001, 2002 and 2003, but, of course, the number of available visas then stood at 195,000, three times those available now. The filing period starts in April and in recent years there was a rush for the visas. In 2007, the USCIS received nearly double the number of petitions to available visas by April 3 and for the first time introduced a computerized random lottery for granting visas. The next year, the numbers were just as robust within the first week.
“The trend last year was the first departure from the previous three years. Then, the numbers were exhausted in the first five days. This is clearly recession-driven,” Muzaffar Chishti, Director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at the New York University School of Law, said.
But this downturn could also be attributable to other factors. Mehta said it was possible that companies using these visas the most may have enough visas from previous years while new regulatory measures have also made matters difficult for IT consulting firms when it comes to proving they had concrete clients six months in advance.
“Basically, there has been more scrutiny of the H1 since January; even more vigorous enforcement,” Mehta said. In addition, this intensified scrutiny extended to US airports where those with H1Bs, especially from India, were entering the country. During January especially, Mehta said, there was a concentrated period during which people were turned away, mainly at the Newark Liberty International Airport outside New York.