American employers jockey for skilled, foreign workers

Petitions for skilled, foreign nationals are up — way up

April 8, 2013

For the first time since 2008, the number of petitions to bring in skilled, temporary foreign workers has reached its cap within the first week of taking applications.

Employers wishing to sponsor professionals in fields such as IT and engineering for the 2014 federal fiscal year started filing visa petitions last Monday.

The U.S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration services issues up to 85,000 H-1B visas per year. Within five days of opening the application window, USCIS had received about 124,000 petitions. “I mean, this hasn’t happened since 2008, where I think it took one day to reach the cap back then,” said Marilu Cabrera, spokesman for USCIS. “Last year it took about 73 days, and for the past few years it’s been taking much longer. So this is definitely news for us.”

Many see the increased demand as a sign of economic recovery, but critics of the program say it allows companies to bypass skilled American workers for cheaper foreign labor. Under federal law, H-1B sponsors are required to pay workers the prevailing wage within their industry. However, employers may choose from four tiers of pay within those categories, and some contend that the majority of employers only pay H-1B workers at the lowest levels allowed.

USCIS will use a lottery to decide which petitions are accepted.

—Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her at @oyousef.