The rush is on for H-1B work visas

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By HU HAIDAN in New York

For Zhang Zheng­hao, a sta­tis­tics an­a­lyst who grad­u­ated in 2012 from the Univer­sity of Ten­nessee with a mas­ter’s de­gree, this year is his last chance to get a prized H-1B visa be­fore his stu­dent visa ex­pires.

“Last year, the com­pany I worked for did not sup­port my H-1B visa,” said the 28-yearold Zhang who is work­ing at a soft­ware com­pany in New York. “This year, they fi­nally do. But I am wor­ried about whether I can get one due to the huge num­ber of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents com­pete for it.”

The H-1B visa clas­si­fi­ca­tion is de­signed for for­eign work­ers who will fill a pro­fes­sional oc­cu­pa­tion that re­quires at least a bach­e­lor’s de­gree or equiv­a­lent. The visas are given on a first-come, first-served ba­sis. In 2013, the avail­able H-1B spots lasted for only seven days.

The ap­pli­ca­tion pe­riod started on Wed­nes­day. It ends when the con­gres­sional-man­dated quota is reached. That num­ber is 65,000 for the fis­cal year 2015 be­gin­ning Oct 1.

An­other 20,000 H-1B visas will be awarded for those with a mas­ter’s de­gree or higher de­grees from US ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions by the US Ci­ti­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices (USCIS), which process the ap­pli­ca­tions.

USCIS an­tic­i­pates re­ceiv­ing more than enough pe­ti­tions to reach both caps. The agency will use a ran­dom se­lec­tion process to meet the nu­mer­i­cal limit. Cases not selected in the lot­tery will be re­jected, and the fil­ing fees won’t be cashed. It costs about $1,820 for an H-1B pe­ti­tion, which in­cludes var­i­ous fees.

Last year, the govern­ment re­ceived 129,000 H-1B visa ap­pli­ca­tions, al­most dou­ble the quota. On April 7, USCIS held a com­puter-gen­er­ated lot­tery to de­cide who would get a visa, the first such lot­tery since 2008 when the global re­ces­sion hit the US job mar­ket.

Wang Ying is a 25-year-old mas­ter stu­dent who grad­u­ated from Amer­i­can Univer­sity in last sum­mer said as an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent ma­jor in Mar­ket­ing; find a job in the US is al­ready hard enough due to the lan­guage and cul­ture is­sues.

“I worked as an un-paid in­tern for five months and worked so hard to get the job. But now whether I can get an H-1B work­ing visa could be de­cided by a com­put­er­ized draw of lots makes me feel frus­trated,” she said.

Many US com­pa­nies, es­pe­cially in tech­nol­ogy, say they need the suc­cess­ful visa ap­pli­cants to fill va­cant po­si­tions. Some unions main­tain that com­pa­nies use the visa pro­gram to hire lower-paid for­eign work­ers.

Af­ter the lot­tery was held in 2013, the US Congress was work­ing on im­mi­gra­tion re­form leg­is­la­tion, and is con­sid­er­ing a re­vamp of the H-1B pro­gram that may raise the quota based on de­mand and elim­i­nate the lot­tery. But such leg­is­la­tion has yet to be passed.

Fang Peng, a New York­based lawyer whose of­fice han­dles visa ap­pli­ca­tions, said that politi­cians say­ing they are work­ing on im­mi­gra­tionre­form leg­is­la­tion is sim­ply a strat­egy to at­tract more votes.

Fang said the com­pe­ti­tion for an H-1B work­ing visa is get­ting fierce this year and the chance to re­ceive one is get­ting smaller.

“We re­ceived al­most dou­ble H-1B cases in 2013 com­pared with the pre­vi­ous two years. But this year we re­ceived 35 to 40 per­cent more com­pared with last year.”

Fang also noted that in the past most Chi­nese stu­dents who sought the H-1B visa were com­puter and elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing ma­jors, but that this year many stu­dents ma­jored in busi­ness, video pro­duc­tion and ar­chi­tec­ture.

He said the large num­ber of H-1B ap­pli­ca­tions that his of­fice re­ceived would sig­nal that the US econ­omy is get­ting bet­ter and com­pa­nies feel con­fi­dent enough about the econ­omy to hire more for­eign work­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to the US Depart­ment of Com­merce, in­ter­na­tional stu­dents con­trib­uted more than $24 bil­lion to the econ­omy in the 2012-2013 aca­demic year, an in­crease of 5.7 per­cent com­pared with 2011-2012 aca­demic year.

Data re­leased by the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion and the US State Depart­ment in Novem­ber 2013 show that the num­ber of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents reg­is­tered at US col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in­creased by 7 per­cent to a record high of 819,644 in the 2012-2013 aca­demic year. Among those, Chi­nese rep­re­sent the high­est per­cent­age, up to 29 per­cent. Stu­dents from In­dia are the sec­ond­largest group, ac­count­ing for 12 per­cent.

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