Many companies this spring scrambled to get a hold of their share of highly skilled foreign workers through the federal H-1B visa program. The program allows employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations for up to six years, including jobs requiring a college degree.
Employers began petitioning U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in April for a new round of 65,000 visas that will become available on October 1. Those who hesitated for even a day lost out—the allotment was gone by April 3 after the agency was flooded with more than 150,000 applications.
In past years, as many as 195,000 H-1B visas were issued. Many employers using the program feel this year’s allowance was too small.
Syed Ahmed, chief executive of RIZ Global Technologies LLC, an IT consulting firm near Pittsburgh, employs some 20 workers with H-1B visas out of a staff of 35. He plans to add 15 more employees this year if he can. Other Pennsylvania employers that put in applications include U.S. Steel, PPG Industries, H.J. Heinz and Alcoa.
The program’s detractors claim companies use it to undercut local workers. Supporters argue it lets companies stay here and compete for global business.