US H1-B visa lottery may leave firms, employees guessing
Posted on March 30, 2013
Cristina Martinez Mortola has a lot riding on her application for a temporary skilled-worker visa. So does her boss, SendHub co-founder Garrett Johnson. Martinez Mortola is competing for one of 85,000 H-1 B visas that make up the US government limit for this year, and demand is so high that 65,000 of those may be awarded through a lottery.
Random selection means more risk for the technology companies that dominate these visas, and also may leave them waiting for months to find out if their employees are chosen. “Every company lives and dies by the talent it has access to,” Johnson said. And Martinez Mortola, who manages customer support for his web-and-mobile-communication startup’s 100,000 clients, is “invaluable,” he said.
Martinez Mortola, 28, a Panamanian with a master’s degree in engineering management from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, has worked at the Menlo Park, Californiabased company since August. Her current visa expires in June.
While she can apply for an extension of her visa if Send-Hub’s petition for an H-1 B is denied, she says if both fail she’ll have to leave her husband and job in the US. Government and company officials say the cap on the H-1 B visas could be reached within five days after the application period opens April 1.
If applications exceed the limit in that time period, which the US Citizenship and Immigration Services has said could happen, the slots will be awarded by lottery rather than by order of filing.
The employer-sponsored visa allows 65,000 professionals with a college degree or equivalent experience to work in the US for three years with extensions to six years and beyond. It took 10 weeks to reach the quota last year and until November 22 in 2011. An additional 20,000 slots are available for the first petitions for employees with a master’s degree or higher from a US university.
That allows for 85,000 H-1 B workers plus those granted under other exemptions. “It really is a race,” said Neil Ruiz, a senior policy analyst at Washington-based Brookings Institution who studies issues involving the visas. Immigration is already a hot topic in Washington, and he said demand for H-1 Bs could focus the issue more intensely . “If the cap is reached fast, that will spark controversy,” he said.
This year’s competition for visas takes place against the backdrop of a national immigration debate. Two bills — one to make the H-1 B system more restrictive and another to raise the cap — have been introduced in Congress this year. The proposals , or parts of them, could be included in a broader package on immigration being drafted by a bipartisan group of eight senators, which the White House anticipates could be filed in April.
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