H-1B visas allow companies to hire highly skilled immigrants who are a valuable part of the U.S. economy and yesterday, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the agency reached its congressionally mandated H-1B visa cap of 65,000 for fiscal year 2017, as well as more than the 20,000 H-1B petition limit the agency can allocate under the U.S. advanced degree exemption. This news came less than one week after USCIS began accepting H-1B petitions for high-skilled workers. Moving forward, the agency will now use a lottery system to finalize the process.
While the exact number of H-1B petitions filed for FY2017 will be unknown for a couple more days, the demand has already vastly surpassed the supply. For example, in FY2015, USCIS received 172,500 petitions within the first week (twice as many applications as the congressional mandate), while FY2016 broke agency records with 233,000 petitions being filed (three times as many applications as the congressional mandate) within a similar timeframe.
While our member companies remain committed – and prefer to hire – American workers, these statistics underscore that the current status quo is simply not working – not for the technology sector which relies on H-1B workers to help fill its 560,000 current job openings, nor the U.S. economy which misses out on the productivity and ingenuity often demonstrated by H-1B workers.
Empirical evidence has shown our current high-skilled immigration system plays against us rather than for us. A recent survey conducted by the American Competitiveness Alliance found that 77 percent of the 400 hiring managers and executives questioned indicated their business operations would suffer if skilled positions were left vacant for more than 30 days. The survey further found that 71 percent of responders would consider potentially relocating their operations abroad if hiring skilled professionals in the United States proved to be too difficult.
Furthermore, a report released by the National Foundation for American Policy noted half of the 87 startup companies valued at more than $1 billion in the United States were founded by at least one immigrant, many of whom first came to the country on H-1B visas. More importantly, the report concluded that each one of these companies now employs on average 760 workers here in the United States.
The limitations on the H-1B visa caps demonstrated this week highlight the need for congressional action. Policymakers need to remember: good paying tech jobs will not go unfilled; it is better that we fill these openings here at home rather than abroad. Without passing effective reforms to our high-skilled immigration system, Congress jeopardizes the competitiveness and growth of notonly the tech sector, but our overall economy, as well as potentially turning away the next inventor who could revolutionize our country as we know it.