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H-1B visa applications hit cap, affirming demand for foreign workers

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the H-1B program in 2013. For the sixth year in a row, employers have deluged the federal government with so many applications for H-1B visas that the cap was reached within five days.

For the sixth year in a row, employers have deluged the federal government with so many applications for H-1B visas that the cap was reached within five days.

The U.S. work permit for foreign citizens with specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher has been drawn into U.S. immigration politics, with tech companies and other supporters demanding more of them and critics charging that they are used to replace Americans with lower-paid foreign labor.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration announced that the number of H-1B applications had hit 65,000, the annual maximum mandated by Congress. The agency also received enough applications to hit the additional 20,000 cap for workers with a master’s degree or higher.

A spokeswoman said today that the agency was still counting applications and should know by the end of this week or next week how many were submitted.

A major tech-industry lobbying group that includes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates among its founders pointed to the rush for H-1B visas as a sign that industry can’t get enough of the talent it needs.

“We’re out of H-1B visas for the entire year within one week, showing that yet again demand continues to outpace supply dramatically,” FWD.us said in a blog post today. “That’s it for the entire year for our nation’s ability to bring in the best and brightest individuals through the H-1B program to come create American jobs.”

Highly publicized allegations of abuse of the H-1B program — that Walt Disney Co. and the University of California, San Francisco, for example, used it to replace Americans with outsourced workers — have added to controversy over the visas.

Bay Area tech companies rely heavily on foreign workers, with a census-based report released in January saying nearly three-quarters of tech employees in Silicon Valley and half in San Francisco and the East Bay were foreign born.

FWD.us wants to smooth the path for highly skilled foreigners.

“We should make it easier for the best and brightest to come from around the world while also cracking down on bad actors,” the group said in a blog post April 2.

“H-1B visa holders create jobs and raise wages for native-born Americans by bringing their ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit to the science, engineering, and tech sectors, creating American jobs and benefiting thousands of businesses and countless communities across the country.”

“People want a bargain,” said Norm Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California, David, who studies the H-1B program. “They like to pay less. It’s that simple.”

Matloff argued that there’s no evidence of a significant shortage of home-grown tech talent in the U.S. His research into government data indicates that wages in the technology industry are rising only slowly, he said.

“They’re not going up by enough to indicate that there’s a big shortage,” Matloff said.

Citizenship and Immigration uses random computer selection, known as a lottery, to award the 85,000 visas including the standard and master’s applications.

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