On April 1, the US Citizen and Immigration Services will begin accepting applications for the coveted H1-B visas that will let high-skilled foreign workers hold jobs in the United States in 2013. In the past few years, high unemployment rates in the US have prompted criticism of the visa program, which allows the hiring of as many as 65,000 foreign workers.
That cap has not been raised for 2013, though the application fee hikes will remain in effect through Sept. 30, 2014. Beginning in 2010, a new law required the submission of an additional fee of $2,000 for certain H-1B petitions and $2,250 for certain L-1A and L-1B petitions.
Last year, the H1-B visa cap for 2012 was reached in November. That was slow compared with previous years, when the cap was reached within days.
The visa awards may be less controversial this year, because unemployment rates appear to be falling. The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of US workers filing unemployment claims has fallen to its lowest level since 2008.
Initial jobless claims fell by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 359,000 in the week ended March 24, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast that claims would increase by 2,000.
The prior week's figure was revised to 364,000 from a previously reported 348,000. Labor made its annual adjustment to seasonal factors this week, causing revisions to claims data back to 2007. As a result, recent weeks' figures were adjusted up…
Still, the unemployment rate remained high last month at 8.3% and may decline only gradually.
There remains a disparity between the needs of the US manufacturing industry and the skill level of available workers. Yesterday, I cited a survey by the manufacturing consortium Prime Advantage that said manufacturing companies are struggling to fill open positions. (See: Midsized Manufacturers Upbeat About 2012.)
Fifty-seven percent of the survey respondents said they had unfilled positions (more than double last year’s 23 percent). And 65 percent of respondents with open positions cited the inability to find skilled workers locally as the main reason for this problem. Competition for talent and labor force immobility were also cited as causes.
One reason for the disparity might be a gap between the skills required in the manufacturing workforce. To cut costs and compete with low-cost foreign labor, US manufacturers have been investing in automation. Although people are required to operate the machines, specific training is required. Prime Advantage reports that companies are investing in training and retraining employees. As a long-term solution, respondents emphasized promoting manufacturing as a strong career choice in local educational institutions.
H1-Bs have always been a hot button in the high-tech industry. Proponents argue that the visas are good for the industry, because they bring specialty skills into the US. Opponents argue that they displace US workers who need jobs. What has been your company's experience in finding workers? Has it hired foreign workers to work in the US?