Employers are nearing their annual limit on applications for skilled worker visas and will have to rely on a lottery system to fill some positions as the economy improves.
Every year, companies are able to sponsor a total of 65,000 H-1B visas for immigrants who have a bachelor's degree, reports the Wall Street Journal
. Many of them go to specialized workers such as programmers or scientists. The program also allows another 20,000 visas for foreigners who have earned advanced degrees from American universities.
But for the first time since the U.S. financial crisis began five years ago, this year's skilled visa quota will be reached on Friday, the Journal reports, even though the application season only opened on Monday for jobs that start in October or later.
Once the allotted number of visa applications runs out, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency will begin randomly selecting visa applications to help fill remaining positions.
According to the Journal, the skilled visa limit was last reached in less than a week in 2008 during the recession. In other years, the economy has been so weak that thousands of H-1B visas went unprocessed until demand picked up. As the economy has improved the demand for skilled worker visas has risen with it to the point where Congress may be on the verge of increasing the H-1B limit.
According to the Journal, a plan to do just that is included in the immigration reform proposal now being negotiated by a bipartisan group in the Senate.
Small companies, as well as tech giants like Google and Microsoft, rely heavily on the H-1B program to attract high-tech graduates and have called for years for Congress to increase the quota on visas, which normally run for three years but can be extended to six.
Critics, though, say the program keeps qualified Americans out of work, and allows companies to hire foreign workers because they command lower salaries and benefits.
In addition, critics complain that H-1Bs are often issued to offshore outsourcing companies in India and elsewhere who send people to the U.S. to learn new jobs and then take those skills back to their own country.
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