H1B Visas in 2004
With immigration (legal and illegal) issues all over the news these days, you
might be interested in a few of the 2004 statistics on H-1B visa holders. 1,990
new H-1B visas were issued to bring the current number to around 450,000 (down from
710,000 in 2003). The annual limit according to law is 85,000 (down from 195,000
in 2003). 92 occupations across 17 occupational sectors are eligible for H-1B visas.
Prevailing wages are required (i.e., no indentured servitude) to successful holders
of the visas; however, many non-immigrant foreign H-1B workers are paid minimum
wage as their official salary, and the rest of their salary is paid as "U.S. Living
Expenses" that are non-taxable.
An application fee of $185 starts the process, and an addition $2,000 is required
after acceptance. To be considered for issuance of a H-1B visa, the prospect must
have an employer attest to his or her being needed to perform a unique job in a
"tight American job market," and possess specialized knowledge that must be proved,
usually in the fields of engineering, science, and medicine (H-2A and H-2B are being
used to import blue collar and agricultural workers). 45% of the PhD holders employed
in the U.S. are foreign nationals. H-1B visas are valid for a maximum of 6 years.
So, Congress and the President have listened (thanks largely to the IEEE USA lobbying
Staunch anti-immigration and temporary worker antagonists will argue that as
long as there is one unemployed American engineer, there should be no H-1B visas
issued. This attitude does not allow for the fact that there are tens of thousands
of American professionals working overseas on visas issued to them by other countries.
It also does not factor in the reality that there are bona fide instances where,
truly, a foreign national does possess a unique talent that can and should be exploited
for the good of the H-1B holder, the company that hires him or her, and the country
as a whole. Not every motive is born out of greed, but, I will concede, probably
most are. Fortunately, we do seem to be moving toward an equitable middle ground.