Employers nationwide scrambled for H-1B visas for the 2019 fiscal year. US Citizenship and Immigration Services said Friday the annual cap of 85,000 for the visa — used to bring highly skilled foreign workers on a temporary basis, such as IT workers — was reached within one week for the sixth year in a row.
Demand continued even as H-1B visas take political heat from some corners, with industry insiders saying the USCIS has begun targeting staffing firms and others that use the visa.
“We’re out of H-1B visas for the entire year within one week, showing that yet again demand continues to outpace supply dramatically,” FWD.us President Todd Schulte said in a statement last week. “That’s it for the entire year for our nation’s ability to bring in the best and brightest individuals through the H-1B program to come create American jobs.”
Founded by tech leaders such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, FWD.us focuses on immigration reform.
“The level of the cap has been set so low relative to demand the fact that it has been reached is not surprising at all,” said Mark Roberts, CEO of the TechServe Alliance, an association of IT and engineering staffing firms. What will shed more light on the H-1B situation is when USCIS releases data on the number of H-1Bs applied for.
“We think there’s going to be a drop in the number of petitions, but most importantly in our sector, a decline in the use of H-1Bs by staffing firms,” Roberts said.
A count of H-1B petitions received this year is not yet available, but they have been decreasing, he said. There were 199,000 petitions filed last April for the current fiscal year and 236,000 for the year before. But it appears USCIS is targeting staffing firms and others through a series of actions, effectively discriminating against the staffing business model, Roberts said.
For example, USCIS released a memo  on Feb. 22 that gets tough on companies that supply workers to third-party worksites. The memo makes clear that these employers must provide contracts and itineraries for workers at third-party worksites. It also requires other information and allows the USCIS to approve H-1B petitions for less than three years.
It also appears USCIS is using the adjudication process to target staffing firms that use H-1Bs rather than through the legislative or regulatory process, Roberts said. The effort doesn’t appear proper, he asserted, and regardless of a person’s stance on H-1Bs, the staffing business model should not be singled out for discrimination.
There have been other reports of H-1Bs receiving more scrutiny, overall. Quartz reported earlier this year that much more paperwork  is being sought from those requesting H-1B visas.
The visas have come under political heat as well, including from the president. Detractors claim the visas lower wages  and put US jobs at risk.
But proponents argue not having H-1B visa recipients is what would hurt US workers. H-1B workers are often part of project teams that include US workers — without the ability to form teams, employers may simply move work abroad. In addition, Canada has been aggressively pursuing highly skilled workers as the US has been less than welcoming.