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US: 2015 cap on H-1B visas reached in 5 days

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has received sufficient petitions for the ‘highly-skilled’ H-1B visa – a key route to post work study for international postgraduates – to reach its limit for the upcoming year within five days, sparking calls from international educators for immigration reform.

This is the second year running the cap has been reached within a week

This is the second year running that the cap has been reached within five days

“Reaching this arbitrary cap in only five days is yet another example of the dysfunction in our broken immigration system”

85,000 H-1B visas, which are used by businesses to employ foreign workers with highly specialised knowledge in areas such as science, engineering and computer programming, will be allocated overall for fiscal year 2015.

This is the second year running that the cap has been reached within five days of applications opening. Last year USCIS received around 124,000 petitions.

USCIS has received sufficient applications to fill both its general category quota of 65,000 visas plus an addtional 20,000 under the advanced degree exemption (ADE), which are reserved for foreign citizens holding a Masters degree or PhD from a US university.

The ‘maxing out’ of the cap since applications opened on April 1 demonstrates huge demand from foreign workers and has prompted fierce criticism from NAFSA, which represents a membership of almost 10,000 international educators.

Marlene Johnson, NAFSA’s Executive director and CEO, said: “Reaching this arbitrary cap in only five days is yet another example of the dysfunction in our broken immigration system, and why international educators continue to call upon Congress to pass commonsense immigration reform.”

“Temporary work statuses, like the H-1B visa, have become increasingly important to the U.S. immigration process due to insufficient quantity of green cards available each year,” she said.

According to a report published last year by the National Foundation for American Policy, the H-1B visa is “essential” to attracting and retaining foreign talent, including high-performing international students,

“H-1B status is generally the only realistic way for a skilled foreign national from abroad or an outstanding international student at a US university to work long-term in the United States,” it argues.

USCIS will randomly allocate the visas using a computer-generated process. ADE applications will be processed first, guaranteeing that 20,000 H-1B visas will be allocated to international students. Any remaining ADE applications will be added to the main pool for the general category allocations.

The reforms to the US immigration system NAFSA has called for include allowing visa holders to apply for permanent residence simultaneously (duel intent) and increasing the number of green cards available.

“By making simple but urgent fixes such as…allowing the Secretary of State to wisely focus consular resources abroad, we can continue to benefit from all that talented foreign students and scholars have to offer,” added Johnson.

“H-1B status is generally the only realistic way for an outstanding international student at a US university to work long-term in the US”

The situation adds to concerns among international educators that the US is losing ground to competitor countries with less stringent immigration policies with figures showing the country has lost 10% of its market share of internationally mobile students over the last decade.

“We know that the only way to keep our economy and higher education institutions globally competitive is to have an immigration system that expands our ability to attract and retain the world’s talented students and scholars to our colleges and universities,” Johnson commented.

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