Understanding And Managing The H1B Visa Cap

Via IndustryWeek.com

Manufacturers need to be proactive and address the current shortage of these visas.

By Jared Leung
   
June 28, 2006 — H1B visas are work permits that allow immigrants, including those that have received advanced degrees at accredited learning institutions worldwide, to work in the U.S. for up to six years in “white collar” positions.

Currently, there is an annual cap of 65,000
visas available for businesses hiring immigrant workers through H1B
visas. This hiring limitation presents a problem for those looking to
expand their talent pool as the cap does not adequately support the
demand for H1B visas by U.S. businesses. The 65,000 H1B visas quickly
will be filled by July or August of 2006 — meaning that immigrants
hired after this date will not be able to work legally until the next
fiscal year.

Due to the shortage of H1B visas, a provision in
the U.S. immigration reform bill has been proposed that, if passed,
will allow immigrants who have earned an advanced degree in science,
technology, engineering or math to be exempt from the cap.

Additionally,
the provision would increase the visa cap from 65,000 to 115,000 and
allow the number of H1B visas to fluctuate depending on market demand.

Until
this proposed provision of the current immigration reform bill is
passed, companies that require immigrant workers in areas such as
manufacturing, construction and telecommunications must be educated
about H1B visas. The following is a list of tips to help these
industries manage the current visa cap:

Option #1: Hire Within U.S. Borders
One
simple option is not to hire workers who require H1B visas. However,
this option poses a drawback in that if an employer eliminates hiring
those who need H1B visas, the company may cut itself off from a large
pool of potential hires, especially in the high-tech field. This may
give competitors with open immigration policies the upper hand.

Option #2: Consult Immigration Specialists
Another
option for companies hiring international employees is to consult
outside immigration experts to educate companies’ internal hiring
managers and recruiters about the H1B cap and current U.S. immigration
policies. An immigration specialist can provide expertise on a wide
range of immigration issues. For example, new hires from college or
overseas are subject to the cap, but lateral hires for an employee
already in H1B status working with a different company are not.
Additionally, foreign nationals who hold a U.S.-earned master’s degree
or higher and workers from Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Chile or
Australia have special quotas not included in the 65,000 limit.

Option #3: Use H1B Visas Wisely
It
is also important for companies to strategically plan how they are
using H1B visas to ensure they are being effective and efficient.
First, a company must know how many H1B visas it has and in which areas
foreign workers are needed. Second, it is important for companies to
review how they recruited their H1B workforce. Knowing the pattern of
H1B hires can help corporations devise a way to minimize the effects of
the H1B cap on recruitment.

Option #4: Identify H1B Applicants Early
Companies
may choose to interview college interns to identify potential H1B
applicants early. Internship programs are a way to evaluate foreign
graduate students prior to their graduation. Through internships a
company can plan ahead to meet the cap.

International students
in the U.S. are allowed Optional Practice Training (i.e., a work
permit) for up to 12 months after graduation so they can start
employment shortly after they graduate while they await H1B status.

Option #5: Recruit Immigrants Laterally
Since
H1B employment transfer cases are not subject to the cap, companies
also have the option of directing their resources to recruit lateral
hires. It is advantageous for companies to hire immigrants with prior
experience. In addition to providing the company with a competitive
advantage, an immigrant’s experience with a previous employer may also
strengthen his or her green card application in the future.

Due
to fear of a backlash from an electorate afraid of outsourcing, it is
not clear that Congress will raise the cap in this election year.
Therefore, it is more important than ever for companies to learn how to
manage those H1B visas that are available. Even more importantly —
especially in the current political environment, employers should keep
up lobbying efforts in Congress, emphasizing that these workers are
vital to American competitiveness and pushing Congress to increase the
number of H1B visas to allow the law of supply and demand to control
the import of critical talent to the U.S

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