April 09, 2009

Applications for Foreign Worker Visas are Down

Published: April 8, 2009

Federal immigration authorities said Wednesday that they were still accepting petitions by employers for temporary visas for foreign scientists and technology engineers for the next fiscal year, reflecting a sharp drop in applications over last year.

The announcement came as a surprise to some employers, researchers and immigration advocates, who had predicted that in spite of the recession and other factors, the quotas for petitions for the so-called H-1B visa would most likely be reached within the initial five-day period, which began on April 1.

The State Department issues up to 85,000 H-1B visas, including 65,000 for applicants with a bachelor’s degree or similar training and 20,000 for those with a master’s degree or higher from an American university.

Some analysts have attributed the decline to the economic downturn and to new restrictions on financial companies that received emergency federal aid.

But Chris Rhatigan, a spokeswoman for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which handles the petitions, said that in 2006, the agency did not reach the regular H-1B cap for at least a month and did not reach the master’s cap until July.

In 2007, the regular cap was met in the first five-day filing period and the master’s degree cap was met within a month. Last year, the agency received about 163,000 petitions within the first five-day petition period, more than meeting the quotas.

“The last two years were anomalies,” Ms. Rhatigan said. “This is going back to normal.”

As part of the economic stimulus legislation, Congress added conditions for H-1B visas requiring banks that received bailout money to show that a newly hired immigrant is not displacing an American from a job for three months before and after the immigrant ishired.

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