Tuesday, August 16, 2005

US Visa Limit Reached

The US has reached its limit for H1-B visas not just for this fiscal year but for the next. A foreign technical worker wanting to work in the US wouldn't be able to start until October 1, 2006.

First some background. Here is the official description of the H-1B.

Established by the Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT), the H-1B nonimmigrant visa category allows U.S. employers to augment the existing labor force with highly skilled temporary workers. H-1B workers are admitted to the United States for an initial period of three years, which may be extended for an additional three years. The H-1B visa program is utilized by some U.S. businesses and other organizations to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in a specialized field. Typical H-1B occupations include architects, engineers, computer programmers, accountants, doctors and college professors. The current annual cap on the H-1B category is 65,000.
Of those 65,000, 6,800 are set aside for free trade agreements with Chile and Singapore, effectively leaving 58,200 visas. During the dot.com boom the number of H1-B visas available was raised to 195,000 but lowered again in a misguided attempt to save American jobs. Congress did allow an additional 20,000 visas for foreigners who have received advanced degrees in the US and there are still a few of those visas available.

These low visa limits will just cause large corporations to continue to develop and grow their overseas R&D labs. Instead of having these workers in the US helping our economy and advancing science and technology in the US, these limits will add to the erosion of the US dominance in these areas.

Do a Google News search on this topic and you get mostly foreign articles on the topic. While the visa limit does not directly affect US citizens, we should all be concerned about its effect on our country's ability to lead in S&T.


  1. A silver lining for researchers/faculty is the following cap-exemption on page 2: "USCIS also notes that petitions for new H-1B employment are not subject to the annual cap at all if the alien will be employed at an institution of higher education or a related or affiliated nonprofit entity, or at a nonprofit research organization or a governmental research organization. Thus, petitions for these exempt H-1B categories may still be filed for work start dates in FY 2005 or 2006."

  2. Does this visa limit also mean that foreign nationals cannot seek tenure track assistant professor positions at US universities?

  3. whoops, did not read the first comment to this post before posting my question...

  4. It will affect those foreign students looking at jobs with industrial research labs, though. Could someone from IBM, AT&T, Bell Labs, Microsoft, Google, etc. say a few words about how they handle this?

    -- Amit Chakrabarti

  5. I'd better add Yahoo to that list of research labs (some readers of this blog are now there). Sorry if I missed other prominent ones.

    -- Amit

  6. Speaking of visas, Bruce Scheiner's blog
    reports that Xiaoyun Wang, the Chinese cryptographer who recently broke SHA-1 was
    denied a visa to enter the US to present her paper at CRYPTO'05. This is a really sad development. While there is some (albeit stupid) logic behind the H-1 visa limit, there is absolutely no sense in denying someone a business visa to attend a well-respected conference, that too to present a paper.

  7. To answer Amit's question, the academic hiring season ends well before the visa for the following fiscal year run out. When I worked at NEC Research in New Jersey we had some postdocs who couldn't start until October 1 which was an annoyance but not a disaster.