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Carl Shusterman's Immigration Update

H-1Bs: Let the Market Decide the Number of Working Visas

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Back in 1982, when I left the INS to enter private practice, the number of H-1 visas was unlimited. All professionals, including registered nurses, were eligible for H-1 visas. Also, there was no maximum duration for H-1s.U.S. employers could petition for H-1 workers all year long, yet the program did not generate the amount of controversy that it does today. It was a market-based system which allowed U.S. employers to fill jobs in a global economy, plain and simple.

The Immigration Act of 1990 ushered in the present era of government control of "H-1B" temporary visas. For the first time, a numerical cap (65,000) was imposed along with a maximum duration of stay (6 years). Registered nurses were banished from the category.

All of this has proven to be a nightmare. Every few years since 1990, Congress has had to step in to change the numerical cap (to 115,000, then to 195,000, then back to 65,000), to create exemptions to the cap, establish a "cap-dependent" category and to allow persons to exceed the six-year maximum under certain circumstances. The result is a crazy-quilt system that only a lawyer could love. Employers don't understand the nuances of the law and the many memos interpreting it. Neither do the visa holders. Often, the agency itself misinterprets the law.

In my opinion, the complexity of the law serves to facilitate abuses by unscrupulous employers. Yet, there are those in Congress who seek to make the law even more complex!

Before Congress acts, it may be wise to examine what happened this year in an economy mired in recession. Employers submitted fewer than 42,000 regular cap petitions in the first week of availability compared with over 163,000 petitions submitted during the same period last year. This despite the fact that many students working using Optional Practical Training (OPT) who lost out in the "H-1B Lottery" last year were petitioned again this year. Also, new USCIS restrictions on "cap-exempt" petitions forced many employers to submit "cap-subject" petitions this year. See

The main lesson to be learned is that the market worked. Given the large number of jobs lost in the U.S. economy, employers submitted far less petitions than they did last year. Contrary to what critics of the program maintain, the cost of employing an H-1B worker exceeds that of hiring a U.S. worker given attorneys' fees and government filing fees.

Further, according to Vivek Wadhwa of Harvard Law School, skilled immigrants have fueled our tech boom. Over half of Silicon Valley tech start-ups and a quarter of those nationwide were founded by immigrants from 1995 to 2005. In 2005 alone, these companies generated $52 billion in revenue and employed 450,000 workers -- a number greater than the number of H-1B workers in the tech industries over the prior 10 years combined.

Congress should stop trying to micro-manage the program, and return to a simple market-based system. The plain truth is that the overwhelming majority of U.S. employers comply with the law. Those that abuse the law should be stripped of their ability to petition for H-1B workers.

Alas, I fear that my advice may fall on deaf ears. Therefore, employers, H-1B workers and their attorneys, seeking to navigate the current complex system, can search our "H-1B Page" which contains almost 100 links to information about this most-complicated of all temporary working visas at

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Updated 12-02-2013 at 05:13 PM by CShusterman


  1. Jenda's Avatar
    Amen! DOL reviews are pointlessly byzanting and add unneeded cost. We could dispense with teh entire system if we scarpped all considerations save security, health and criminal screenings and then just let employers pay a fee to hire these folks in. In fact, we could do that for all immigrants and decrease corruption, disruptions and it would put peoples' moeny where their mouths are.
    Far more transparent and easier to adminsiter. Besides, it could be significantly revenue positive.
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