Plenty of H-1B Numbers Still Available for Foreign Workers

November 19, 2010, 10:07 AM

With the downturn in the economy, the infamous H-1B lottery for professional and specialty occupations was not necessary for the current year. Over 20,000 H-1B visa numbers are currently available and employers may still hire qualified foreign nationals in this temporary non-immigrant status without significant delays.

In past years, U.S. employers have been stymied in their efforts to hire qualified foreign national applicants into professional positions, due to the limited number of H-1B visa numbers available. This particular non-immigrant status applies to professional and specialty occupations which require a minimum of a U.S. Bachelors Degree, or the equivalent. Benefits of H-1B status include that employees can be in this status at the same time they are seeking permanent resident status and that employees can remain in H-1B status for longer time periods than some other non-immigrant statuses.

An employer must petition the United State Citizenship and Immigration Service for approval of an employees H-1B status. Only 65,000 H-1B visa numbers are available nationally each year, with an additional 20,000 H-1B visa numbers being set aside for foreign nationals who have received an advanced degree (Masters Degree or higher) from a U.S. college or university. In 2007 and 2008, these numbers were all distributed through a lottery system based on filings made in April, for positions which could not start until October. If an employers petition was not selected in the lottery, both the employer and the prospective employee were out of luck until the next year.

However, last year and again this year, the H-1B numbers were not used up in the lottery process. As H-1B visa numbers are still currently available, this means that employers can hire foreign national employees into professional and specialty positions, with employment start dates in the immediate future. This increases the opportunities for U.S.-educated foreign nationals to remain in the U.S., where U.S. employers can take advantage of the education and training these individuals gained in the U.S. higher education system. Employers who have been unable to bring foreign national employees into the U.S. to work, as the employees or the positions did not qualify under other non-immigrant working visa classifications, may want to consider whether the position and the employee can satisfy the H-1B degree requirements. Finally, the H-1B availability also means that employers may want to consider whether foreign national employees currently in the U.S. in other non-immigrant statuses, such as F-1 students working post-graduation in Optional Practical Training, L-1 intra-corporate transfers, Q cultural program participants, or TD/TN NAFTA status, should be moved to H-1B status to take advantage of the extended period of work authorization available to the employee or for other reasons. --Heather A. Mullen