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H Blackouts: New Fiscal Year Shuts Door on H-1B Visas, Signals Imminent Exhaustion of H-2B Visa Program

 

On October 1, 2004, the very first day of the new fiscal year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials announced that the H-1B cap on visas for highly educated foreign professionals had been reached. Reports indicate that exhaustion of the cap on H-2B short-term workers is imminent. Unless Congress takes action, U.S. employers will be facing an H visa “blackout” for almost an entire year.

 

While the H-1B and H-2B programs deal with very different types of foreign workers, both programs fill a vital role for U.S. businesses and research institutions, small and large. Without access to H-1B visas, U.S. employers may be unable to hire the professionals with needed cutting-edge knowledge and skills—including recent graduates from top U.S. universities with advanced degrees in math and science—to develop new products, engage in groundbreaking research, create new jobs, and compete in the global marketplace. There still are not enough U.S. students interested in pursuing advanced degrees to fill these highly specialized positions and, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for these graduates will only increase over time. In recent years Canadian citizens have been the third largest group of foreign nationals using the H-1B option for employment within the U.S.

 

Foreign nationals account for roughly half of all U.S. university Master’s and PhD graduates in math, science and engineering. An exemption from the H-1B cap for graduates from U.S. universities with advanced degrees is a workable solution that will help U.S. businesses and research institutions compete in the global marketplace, ensure that Americans have access to highly educated foreign professionals who deliver needed public services, and help keep and create jobs in the U.S.

 

While the H-1B program gives U.S. employers a means to access highly educated foreign professionals, the H-2B program is instrumental in providing employers with essential workers where no U.S. workers are available. H-2B visa holders help keep the doors of American businesses open. These workers include restaurant, landscape, food production, and hotel service workers. They fill the rosters of U.S. minor league hockey and baseball teams, teach American kids to ski, and repair helicopters that fight summer forest fires.

 

Currently the H-2B program is capped at 66,000 visas per year. This number has not been adjusted since the visa category was initially capped in 1990 yet, during that time, improvements in education and other factors have hampered U.S. employers’ ability to find and hire willing American workers for seasonal positions. Without increased access to this visa category, many seasonal businesses across the nation will have to close their doors.