Companies Scramble as the H-1B Visa Race Begins Today

Today marks the first day U.S. employers can submit H-1B visa applications to the federal government for fiscal year 2014. Supporters of immigration reform have argued that the number of H-1B visas needs to increase, as the current number leaves many small business owners struggling to find applicants.

Currently, the government has set the number of H-1B visas available to 85,000, including 20,000 that are set aside for foreign graduates with advanced degrees from American universities. These visas are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Officials said the Citizenship and Immigration Services(USCIS)would not issue daily updates on number of applications received, but will make an announcement when the cap is reached. For the first time since the financial crisis hit in 2008, the quotas for the H1B are expected to be filled in a single week. In 2012, it took 73 days for the USCIS to reach the cap, while in 2011 it took 235 days to receive applications to fill the 65,000 H-1B numbers; it took 300 days in 2010, and 264 days in 2009.

Some experts are predicting that the H-1B cap might be reached within five days. But the uncertainty of the application period plus the low success rate of getting approval for a visa makes planning human resources tricky and complicated.

One proposal of the immigration reform debate calls for a change to this H-1B process. Instead of a cap, there would be an “H-1B escalator” that adjusts the cap depending on demand. The act would also provide unlimited H-1B visas for foreigners with advanced degrees. Named the “I-Squared Act,” this system overhaul will be discussed this month in the Senate.