H-1B Visas Remain Sore Point for All Sides

Last Updated Apr 12, 2008 4:00 PM EDT

For the fifth year in a row, the federal limit on H-1B visas has been reached before the government's fiscal year even begins.

This time, the cap was reached nearly six months before the federal 2009 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. It took only one week after the US Citizenship and Immigration Service began receiving employers' petitions for foreign workers to obtain H-1B visas. That was soon enough to trigger a new provision that will allot visas according to a random-selection process, rather than a first-come, first-serve basis.

This is far from ideal, especially for Silicon Valley giants like Oracle and Microsoft, which have been pushing for a larger number of H-1B visas above the current maximum of 65,000. It gives companies much less control over which potential employee can have a visa.

The work visas have long been a thorny political issue, amid charges that a lot of the visas were going to the same companies that were outsourcing U.S. jobs overseas. The economic slowdown has only sharpened the debate over visas. Indian publications were reporting on a letter from two U.S. senators to top visa recipients such as Tata and Wipro that warned of a will to reform what they call visa abuses.

"The H-1B program can't be allowed to become a job-killer in America. We need to ensure that firms are not misusing these visas, causing American workers to be unfairly deprived of good high-skill jobs here at home... "
There are valid concerns on both sides of the debate. Only for now, it seems there's plenty of news to go around to make everyone unhappy.
  • Kevin Kelleher

    Kevin Kelleher writes a regular stock column at TheStreet.com and is a contributor to Wired, Popular Science, and GigaOm. He has previously worked as a reporter and editor at Bloomberg News, Wired News, and The Industry Standard.