Wednesday, 08 April 2009

More H-1B Visas, More U.S. Tech Layoffs

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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on April 8 it has received enough H-1B applications to meet the congressionally mandated cap of 85,000 H-1B visas for fiscal year 2009. The H-1B visas are given to foreign workers in “specialty occupations” (science, engineering, law, medicine, computer programming, etc.) where U.S. employers have filed petitions claiming there are not qualified U.S. applicants to fill the jobs.

The total current 85,000 includes an annual 65,000 “cap” and an additional 20,000 exemptions for applicants with advanced degrees.  If precedent holds, other exemptions will add tens of thousands more; in 2008 the number of H-1B visas, including exemptions, totaled about 122,000.

The 85,000 H-1B visas about equal the number of domestic tech workers laid off recently. MarketWatch.com reported on April 6 that “high-tech companies announced job cuts totaling 84,217 in the first quarter,” the steepest reduction since the fourth-quarter lay-offs of 2002. “The latest decline follows 66,312 reported layoffs in the 2008 fourth [quarter],” the MarketWatch report continued, noting job cuts “have risen five straight quarters.” That, of course, is but part of the job-loss picture; nearly ten times that number of workers were laid off, in all occupations,  during the month of March. The U.S. economy lost 663,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate shot up to a 26-year high of 8.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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