The number of H-1B visas requested during the month of February fell sharply compared with earlier months, suggesting the downturn in the U.S.
economy may be affecting the demand for foreign workers.
According to numbers released by the Immigration and Naturalization Service on Tuesday, 16,000 H-1B petition requests were submitted in February, compared
with 30,000 in January, 53,000 in December, and 33,000 in November. By comparison, 32,000 petitions were requested in February 2000.
The high number of requests in November and December likely show companies racing to file requests before the mid-December filing fee hike, which
increased to $1,000 from $500 per application, said INS spokeswoman Eyleen Schmidt.
As far as the sharp drop in petitions during the month of February, said Schmidt, "We aren't speculating."
This drop in petition requests, however, does coincide with dozens of
technology companies either laying off or reducing employees through
attrition. In the past several weeks alone, heavyweights Cisco Systems,
Intel and Motorola have cut workers or announced plans to reduce costs
because of soft economic conditions and slower growth.
"It may reflect the downturn in the economy, but it's really too soon to
tell," said Steve Camaroto, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Today's H-1B visa numbers are the first set released by the INS since
Congress raised the visa limit to 195,000 from 115,000 last October, after
strong lobbying efforts from people on both sides of the debate. Several
high-tech companies lobbied for an increase in visas last year, arguing
there was a dearth of highly skilled technical workers in the United States.
Despite a drop in requests in February, the overall number of H-1B visas issued and requested this fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, roughly equals the
amount issued last year.
In total, 72,000 petitions have been approved this fiscal year through March 7, and 66,000 applications are pending, the INS said. Around the same time
last year, 74,300 petitions were approved and 45,000 were pending.
With the cap on H-1B visas raised to 195,000, there are at least 57,000 more visas available to companies for this fiscal year.
This means the limit will not likely be reached until later than last year, when the INS stopped accepting applications March 21. More likely, 2001
will mirror earlier years when the cap was not reached until the summer months.
In 1999, the 115,000 cap was reached in June. In 1998, the 65,000 cap was reached in August, and in 1997 the 65,000 cap was reached in September, according to the INS.
Camaroto said if the INS numbers do signify further suffering of the
economy, this could be bad news for foreign workers living in the United States. In the event of more layoffs, foreign workers could potentially find
themselves out of work and, therefore, out of a visa.
"You can't just kick people out," he said. "They're entitled to be treated
in certain ways."