H-1B cap is reached with 'high number' of visa requests

Lottery will again be used to distribute the visas

The H-1B cap has been quickly reached, the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Service said Tuesday. The agency said it received a "high number" of visa petitions, but did not have a final count.

It will be a week or two before the immigration service can say exactly how many petitions it has received, a spokeswoman said. The filing period began April 1 for the 2016 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The U.S. issues 85,000 H-1B visa petitions annually under its two caps, with 20,000 set aside for advanced degree graduates of U.S. schools.

The USCIS expected to quickly exceed the cap this year. Last year it received 172,500 petitions for the H-1B visa under the caps. The government uses a computer-generated lottery to distribute the visas once the cap is exceeded.

A majority of visas are typically requested by IT services companies that use H-1B workers to provide outsourcing services.

The use of the H-1B visa by IT contractors was highlighted in a recent reportby the AFL-CIO, which looked at H-1B visa use by Walmart. It says that between 2007 and 2014, IT contractors filed almost 15,000 petitions for H-1B visas for work in Bentonville, Ark., the hometown of Walmart's headquarters. These numbers are approximate and may include some H-1B users in Bentonville unaffiliated with Walmart.

Walmart uses a number of IT outsourcing contractors, but the largest may be Infosys.

"Walmart and its IT contractors are driving down standards in the tech industry in the U.S. by using H-1Bs visas excessively to keep costs low," said the AFL-CIO, in its report. Walmart was contacted but had not yet responded.

Walmart is among the companies seeking an increase in the H-1B cap. Greg Penner, the vice chairman of the Walmart board of directors, is listed as a supporter of FWD.us, a group lobbying for an H-1B visa cap increase, the union noted in its report.

In response to the AFL-CIO report, Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg said the retailer “is undergoing an historic technology transformation. We are integrating the digital and physical shopping experience and hiring some of the best specialized STEM talent. The vast majority of Walmart technologists are U.S. citizens recruited from some of the best universities and technology companies in the world.”

Lundberg said that of the H-1B workers it hires directly, nearly all are sponsored for green cards.

Lundberg questioned the accuracy of the data that AFL-CIO was using, which has based on the Labor Condition Applications, and called the numbers used and the report’s premise “inaccurate.”

The use of IT outsourcing companies to displace U.S. workers was recently examined by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Lawmakers heard from IT workers who were displaced at Southern California Edison, after the utility brought in two offshore outsourcing services. About 500 IT employees were let go.

There are efforts in Congress to raise the H-1B visa cap, but also interest in restricting its use by offshore outsourcing firms. One possibility is the so-called 50/50 rule, which would limit H-1B worker use to 50% of a company's staff.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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