In what the US government calls a sign of an improving economy, the number of applicants for visas that allow foreign workers to live here has spiked. The Wall Street Journal reports that 25,600 people applied for H-1B visas in the first week of the program this year. Last year, it took an entire month to receive that many applications.
"Given the improved economy… it would not be surprising to see the quota filled very early this year," Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, told the Journal.
There are two ways to look at the government's assertion that the application increase is a sign that the US economy is improving. On one hand, foreign workers may be anxious to work in the US because overall conditions are better. On the other hand, an improving US economy should spur the hiring of more US workers, which would decrease demand for foreign workers.
The number of H-1B visas granted in any year is dictated by a cap, not by US economic conditions. (As we reported last month, the cap for visas for the 2013 calendar year is 65,000.) This has given rise to widespread criticism that the program hires foreign workers at reduced salaries. (See: H1-B Critics Outline Program Flaws.)
According to the Journal:
Demand for the skilled-worker visas has fluctuated in past years, with the visa limit exhausted on the first few days of filing in 2007 and 2008.
That demand decreased during the economic crisis and its aftermath. In recent years, some lawmakers... have expressed concern about the visa program and whether foreign workers, especially in the software sector, are displacing qualified Americans.