US Government Quota on H-1B Visas Hurts Small Businesses

The US congress has set a quota of 20,000 visas for workers with master’s degrees and 65,000 visas for those with bachelor’s degrees. For US employers who take advantage of the H-1B program to fill job vacancies with foreign specialists, this means a continued struggle in finding suitable workers in fields, such as engineering and computer programming.

The Small Businesses Suffer

U.S._Citizenship_and_Immigration_Service“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on April 7, 2015 that it has received enough H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 visas for fiscal year (FY) 2016. USCIS has also received more than the limit of 20,000 H-1B petitions filed under the advanced degree exemption, also known as the masters cap,” the agency wrote on its website.  “On April 13, USCIS used a computer-generated random selection process, or lottery, to select enough petitions to meet the 65,000 general-category cap and the 20,000 cap under the advanced degree exemption.”

Fortunate were the small businesses whose candidates were among the chosen in the lottery. They no longer have to compete with the big names the industry in recruiting skilled workers, especially in the field of technology. For the unlucky ones, however, this means formulating new strategies to meet business demands while waiting for the right employees to come.

But is this truly a matter of luck or a result of an unfair system?

In 2011, the US Government Accountability Office recommended that the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor take measures to improve the provisions of the H-1B program. It wrote, “When we consider all initial petitions, including those from universities and research institutions that are not subject to the cap, we find that demand for new H-1B workers is largely driven by a small number of employers. Over the decade, over 14 percent of all initial petitions were submitted by cap-exempt employers, and only a few (fewer than 1 percent) garnered over one-quarter of all H-1B approvals.”

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Available Alternatives

Training local citizens is alternative small businesses can take. Resorting to this, however, means facing the possibility of competition when another business comes up and offers better opportunities to these trained staff.

Another consideration to make are the H-1B1, E-3, and TN Classification visas. These nonimmigrant visa categories are similar to the H-1B visa in the sense that the worker has to be a “professional”. The specific qualifications of each involve country of origin and trade agreements made with the United States. While these kinds of visas are less advantageous compared to an H-1B, they do offer the possibility of employing ideal workers.

The recruitment of foreign workers for a specialty occupation in the US is now becoming an annual battle for big and small companies and the US government. Whether they should look forward to a change in next year’s H-1B program is entirely depended on immigration bills passed in the US congress. We can be sure, however, that having a back-up plan is best in case your candidates won’t be selected in next year’s H-1B lottery.