In previous years, as reported on this blog, temporary worker visas have been snapped up quickly, particularly by employers in technology-based industries. So, as in previous years, authorities planned a 5-day window during which applications would be accepted, but that period ended on Tuesday with the quota about half full. The L.A. Times says last year American companies filed some 160,000 such applications.
An additional set of H-1B visas, reserved for graduates of American universities with masters degrees or higher, has been largely matched by applications, however. A spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security told the Times that the bureau received nearly 20,000 applications for these visas, almost meeting the annual number allotted.
The severe economic downturn, accompanied by extensive layoffs in companies that would normally apply for H-1B visas, has dampened the demand, says the L.A. Times. Microsoft, for example, told the Times that it planned "substantially fewer H-1B applications" this year. Microsoft announced some 5,000 layoffs in January.
Beryl Benderly reported on Science Careers in January on the controversy surrounding temporary worker visas. She noted that many technology and life-sciences companies say they need high-skilled workers from overseas to make up for the lack of this talent in the U.S. Benderly found several experts who have studied the American science and technology workforce that dispute the companies' argument.
The Science Careers Blog reported last month that recent reports of fraud in the H-1B program, along with most visas last year going to Indian outsourcing companies, have also caused a cooling of Congressional support for raising or eliminating the caps on these visas, as advocated by some companies. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, who represents the district that includes Silicon Valley, told a press conference at that time that any action on H-1B visas would have to be part of comprehensive immigration reform. The New York Times reports today that President Obama plans to address that issue, as early as next month.