We’ve just wrapped up another H-1B lottery season, during which United States companies submit H-1B petitions on behalf of skilled workers to fill professional-level positions. This year, nearly 200,000 petitions were submitted for just 85,000 visas. Once again, the government must resort to a computer-generated random selection process to pick and choose between petitions, and the losers will include a lot of small businesses. The program does not take into consideration market demand, and many small businesses will be unable to hire the specific workers they need to grow and create jobs for U.S. workers.
How does the lottery work exactly? Simply put, employers file petitions, at a cost of several thousand dollars in filing fees and costs, and then wait to discover whether U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) pulls the applicant’s “number” for processing. Only those petitions chosen in the lottery will be adjudicated by USCIS for jobs that can begin no later than October 1, 2018, the start of the federal fiscal year. If the prospect of building a business by pulling a number out of a hat seems counterintuitive to you, you aren’t alone. It is.
This isn’t good, guys. While a large engineering firm may be able to submit H-1B petitions and absorb the financial loss if some are not chosen, smaller businesses can’t afford the unpredictability and cost. In fact, the whole process virtually shuts out smaller businesses. And even bigger companies are opting to open subsidiaries outside of the U.S., employing highly skilled workers abroad, when they have no options for bringing them here.
In addition, with all of the negative rhetoric in the news, and the constant accusations that the H-1B program is rife with fraud and abuse, potential employees are beginning to second-guess whether they want to live and work in the U.S., or take their talent somewhere else, where they are welcomed. International student enrollment has plummeted in recent months, likely due to a combination of factors, including a lack of certainty they will get a visa after graduation and the unwelcoming image the U.S. has developed abroad.
The U.S. has benefited enormously from the H-1B program. H-1B workers are scientists, engineers, statisticians, and researchers, who have created and developed innovative tools, such as seismic software to detect underground motion caused by bombs and tsunamis; shipboard power systems for our Navy; drugs that pass through the blood-brain barrier; devices to implant in the brain to detect epileptic seizures; and, even a vaccine to protect unborn babies against heroin and nicotine.
Far from taking American workers’ jobs, the presence of foreign skilled workers in the United States leads to job creation and economic stimulation. In fact, many H-1B petitions are filed on behalf of international students who are recent graduates from universities throughout the U.S.
The H-1B program needs to be updated to keep up with the needs of U.S.-based companies, for the benefit of our economy and to ensure the U.S. remains competitive. The system as it stands is not workable. No company can successfully run a business or build a workforce by lottery, especially small businesses. When U.S.-based companies are forced to open subsidiaries outside the country, we all lose. When international students seek a higher education elsewhere, we lose. Tell Congress the H-1B program needs to be reformed in a way that meets the needs of American businesses, not hurts them, so we can stop losing and start winning.
Written by Susan Bond, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee