We just passed a season of which most people were unaware. It was the H-1B season. Immigration attorneys and their employer-clients weathered the storm. And we are just now coming up for air.
H-1B is the visa category for professional workers. Employers wishing to hire temporarily foreign national professionals with at least a bachelor’s degree in a specialty occupation must file document with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service. Typical H-1B cases would include a computer specialist working for an IT company, a doctor working for a hospital, an architect at an architectural firm, an accountant at an accounting firm or a schoolteacher at a public or private school.
The problem is this: Although there are many employers requesting and needing H-1B workers, Congress has limited the number of H-1B visas that can be given out each fiscal year. The limit is 65,000, with an additional 20,000 reserved just for professional workers holding at least a master’s degree. So that’s a total of 85,000. It might sound like a lot of foreign workers. But keep reading.
This brings us to the H-1B season. Employers are allowed to file paperwork to request H-1B status for an employee candidate six months prior to the start of the fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1 of each year. So the start date to file is April 1, which means around Jan. 1 employers and attorneys begin preparing cases to be filed on the very first possible day. Hence, the H-1B season.
This year, during the first week of April, USCIS received 172,000 H-1B cases. With only 85,000 visas petitions to approve, 87,000 cases were rejected and returned to employers. Here’s where the money comes in. Each case includes at least the following:
• $325 filing fee
• $500 fraud prevention fee
• $750 education fee (depending on company size, some employers pay $1,500)
That’s a minimum of $1,575 per case. Multiply that by 87,000 rejected cases, and you have more than $137 million. To add vinegar to the wound, it costs the government about $3 a case to return it by regular mail, so that’s an added, out-of-pocket government expense of $261,000.
This just doesn’t make sense to me. Employers want to hire these foreign professionals who bring skills, dedication and brainpower to our economy. Employers are willing to pay for the right to employ these professionals. Yet Congress has determined employers don’t need them and the government doesn’t need this money. Congress needs to heed the voice of U.S. employers by allocating more H-1B visa numbers to meet the demands of the market. And stop giving back millions of dollars and incurring thousands more in unnecessary expenses.
Linda Rose is the managing member of Rose Immigration Law Firm PLC in Nashville. Her firm represents employers seeking H-1B workers. Rose is also an adjunct faculty member at Vanderbilt University Law School, where she teaches immigration law and policy. This op-ed was published in The Tennessean on May 27, 2014: