Demand may fall for visas

The popular H-1B visa program for skilled foreign workers has had a flurry of applications in recent years starting each April 1, but this year there may be less demand due to the recession.

Federal IT contractors and other employers who apply for the visas on behalf of foreign workers have slowed down their hiring and that may lead to a decrease in the number of applications submitted.

“We are anticipating a reduction in H-1B applications this year due to the economic downturn,” said Frances Cox, a spokeswoman for Compete America, a coalition of companies that have supported expansion of the visa program. .

In April 2008, 163,000 H-1B applications came in by April 5, quickly exceeding the 65,000 cap set by Congress, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency. In 2007, the cap was reached in a single day.

However, 2009 could be different. “The widespread feeling [is] that this year there may not be as many petitions as the previous years because of the recession and widespread layoffs,” Morley Nair, an immigration attorney in Philadelphia, said in a statement March 24.

"The frenzy leading up to the filing date of April 1 during the past two years is just a good old memory now," Nair said. "But still we are reasonably busy."

In recent years, federal IT contractors advocated for raising the cap on those visas to improve competitiveness and innovation.

The program is complex. There are separate H-1b quotas for foreign workers with advanced degrees from U.S. schools, and for workers from Singapore and Chile. Renewals and applications from academic institutions are mostly exempt from the caps. There could be pent-up demand in those categories that could boost the total number of visas awarded, Nair said.

Starting April 1, Congress added new restrictions to those visas for two years. That was done in the legislation that created the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and It prohibits employers who get TARP funding from displacing U.S. workers.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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