Institute an OPT Extension for Grads Who Lost H-1B Lottery
During the first week of April, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received approximately 124,000 petitions for H-1B work visas, more than the yearly limit of 85,000. That not only means that all the H-1B slots for the entire fiscal year 2014 running from October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2014 are used up already, but that 39,000 applicants were rejected. The rejection notices came via returned petitions during the middle of May.
For foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities who have job offers from U.S. employers following graduation, this has meant being forced to give up, pack up, and leave the country. Take Joanita Bora, for example. She graduated from Willamette University in Oregon with a Master’s of Business Administration, and was offered a job in her field following graduation. She was able to work under a one-year work permit under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) category, post graduation. Her employer filed an H-1B petition on her behalf, but Joanita was one of the unlucky thousands whose petitions were not selected in the random lottery for the slots. Her OPT ended in May, and without an H-1B petition in place, she was given just 60 days to leave. Now she has returned to India, but has started a facebook page to express her frustration.
A bi-partisan group of Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee has agreed that the H-1B cap should be increased to a number somewhere between 115,000 and 180,000, depending on various labor statistics, visa usage, and other market factors. They included such a provision in the current immigration bill being debated in the Senate, S. 744. The group included Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who said he would be for the immigration bill only if it offered the increased numbers. In fact, the 65,000 base cap was set back in 1990 without using actual labor demand analysis. As far as I can tell Congress just dreamed up that number, and the 20,000 additional numbers for U.S. Master’s degree holders has been the only modest increase in the law’s limit since then. Because the bi-partisan Senate Judiciary Committee members have determined that the 85,000 H-1B numbers are insufficient, the Obama Administration should immediately implement an OPT extension for those who can show that 1) they graduated with a degree from a U.S. institution; 2) had OPT on April 1, 2013; and 3) they have a job offer that would qualify them for an H-1B if there were visas actually available.
Everyone knows the immigration system is broken, and we all want a new law that addresses the problems in the current law. The Senate is moving to implement a new law, but until then there are thousands among the 39,000 rejected H-1B petitions who have U.S. degrees and an employer offering them a position. These U.S. grads deserve more than the boot. Let’s allow them an OPT extension while Congress debates.
Written by Brent Renison, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee