H-1b visas during the great recession

In the last few years, those who filed for H-1B visas exceeded the number of available visas by a ratio of about 3:1. The H-1B limit, or cap, of 58,000 was reached almost immediately. In 2009, however, the cap was not reached until December, eight months after the window for applications opened on April 1st.

The fact that the number of applications was severely down last year dispels the notion that the H-1B visa provides a cheap-labor substitute for U.S. workers. If H-1Bs were being used by companies simply to employ cheap foreign workers, then one would expect the number of H-1B applications to increase during a depressed economy. However, this has not been the case, and therefore, the fact that U.S. employers did not rush to utilize the H-1B option last year weighs in favor of a conclusion that it is a legitimate visa avenue for U.S. companies when they need foreign employees of a specialized or highly technical nature. Such workers can provide valuable services and perspectives that keep the U.S. economy competitive in the global market.

As the economy rebounds and as U.S. companies need to retool in order to compete in the global economy, Congress should allow them to seek more H-1B employees by raising the cap from 58,000 pursuant to the economic need at the time. This is what we have learned from the current experience of this year.

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