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Yesterday, I was on Capitol Hill along with many attorney colleagues from the American Immigration Lawyers Association. I was visiting congressional members representing Minnesota and the Dakotas, telling my clients' stories which illustrate the ongoing and urgent need for immigration reform. Coincidentally, I have just finished sending this year's batch of H-1B petitions on behalf of my clients, and now we cross our fingers and hope each case is selected in a lottery run by US Citzenship & Immigration Services. That's right - our immigration system, at least for highly skilled workers, runs by lottery.
The reason for this is the basic limit on the number of H-1B visas which can be approved each year is 65,000. An additional 20,000 can be granted if the worker has a U.S. Masters degree or higher. The basic 65K limit was created in 1990 - how many software engineers did the U.S. need in 1990? As many as today? How many molecular biologists and medicinal chemists and biomedical engineers did the biotech industry need in 1990? Was there a biotech industry in 1990? Certainly nothing like there is today. Guess what? A lo
t of that talent comes from abroad, and the H-1B is commonly the only option U.S. employers have to hire those individuals.
According to a Pew Research Center study in 2015, foreign students studying in the U.S. earn 56.9% of all doctoral degrees in engineering, 52.5% of all doctoral degrees in computer and information sciences, and half of all doctorates in mathematics and statistics. Over half of the Ph.D. degrees in these fields awarded by U.S. universities are earned by foreign students on student visas. These individuals are the inventors and creators of the increasingly technologically advanced world we could live in. Then - we work against our own interests by making it very difficult for U.S. employers to tap this pool of extremely high talent. A foreign student has immigration limitations - he or she can work under a practical training program temporarily, but cannot be hired long-term in the vast majority of cases, without an H-1B.
Last year, U.S. employers filed 233,000 H-1B petitions, and only 85,000 could be approved. In the coming days, we will learn how many applications were submitted under this year's lottery. I expect the number of petitions submitted will be even higher. As a result, most U.S. employers will need to do without these talented individuals, and that is just counterproductive for our business economy and our consumers, and our future.
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