US Citizen, Immigration Services reaches H-1B visa cap in less than week

Valerie Tan/Staff

Related Posts

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Friday that it had reached the H-1B visa cap of 65,000 for fiscal year 2018 less than a week after applications opened April 3.

According to the USCIS website, the H-1B visa allows employers in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers with specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in their areas of expertise. Ivor Emmanuel, director of Berkeley International Office, said obtaining the H-1B is one of many obstacles international students face when planning out their careers, in addition to finding employers willing to sponsor their H-1B petitions and finding jobs that match their skill sets.

International students often petition for the H-1B during their Optional Practical Training, or OPT, a period allotted by student visas in which students can stay in the United States to gain work experience, according to Emmanuel.

Through a lottery system, Congress can issue up to 65,000 H-1B visas and an additional 20,000 visas to foreigners who hold a master’s degree or higher level of education every year, according to the website. Additionally, institutions of higher education, government research and nonprofit research can also petition for workers to receive visas that are not included in the capped count.

In 2016, the number of visa petitions filed was three times more than the congressionally mandated quota, according to CNN Money.

“The 65,000 is not anywhere near enough to meet the demand,” Emmanuel said. “Even the 20,000 — the master’s cap — is also oversubscribed within a couple of days.”

This year, the USCIS temporarily halted the expedited process, called premium processing, which allows petitioners and applicants to find out their statuses within 15 calendar days for a fee of $1,225, according to TIME. Without the option of premium processing, all applicants must wait months to find out their statuses.

Former ASUC senator and campus alumnus Tom Seung Kun Lee, who is awaiting results for his H-1B visa application, said the visa is an investment for employers because a company can hire and train employees if it petitions for the employees, but it must deal with the prospect of losing them if they don’t receive the H-1B.

“It really hinders and restricts where (you) can apply for jobs, and once you get it, you can’t plan out your career trajectory because you can end up not being in the country in a year,” Lee said.

Jane Seung, a campus senior and international student, said she remembers going through internship websites and filtering out all the companies that did not offer sponsorships, even if she believed the job descriptions fit well to her skill sets and interests.

Seung said she and other international students also struggle with the prospect of being deported. She added that when she took on an internship in Korea — where she was born — she learned professional skills but had trouble adjusting to the culture.

“Because I spent so much time out of the country, I can’t really imagine going back to Korea and working there right at this moment because I’ve made connections here,” Seung said.

Lee expressed a similar sentiment, saying he too feels that he has been assimilated into the American lifestyle, but he added that there are always other options for international students.

“There are ups and down in working in the states and working abroad. If you’re trying hard but you don’t get it, don’t be depressed,” Lee said. “If you can show your value, you will find a way. Think (realistically) — if you think it’s not going to work out, find plan B and plan C.”

Contact Christine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @christinejlee17.

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy
  • crack down on h1b abusers like tata and infosys to solve the problem

  • Perturbed Pundit

    Both the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program and the H-1B visa are vehicles that put US citizens at a great disadvantage and need to be reformed. Here’s why:


    OPT amounts to the government offering a $30,000 ($10,000 / yr) incentive to employers for hiring a foreign student instead of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This bonus takes the form of the foreign students being exempt from payroll tax (due to their student status, which they technically still have under OPT in spite of having graduated). Why hire Americans, eh?

    Since this tax exemption from payroll tax was pointed out in a lawsuit against DHS, and has been one of the major points raised by critics, DHS was well aware of it. Yet they are refusing to address it or even acknowledge it.

    In contrast to DHS recent statements, in which they openly admitted that they intend OPT as an end-run around the H-1B cap, they now describe OPT in warm and fuzzy terms of “mentoring” (putting the T back into OPT). That raises several questions:

    If the U.S. indeed “needs” the foreign students (DHS’s phrasing on this point verges on desperation) to remedy a STEM labor shortage, why do these students need training? The DHS/industry narrative is that the U.S. lacks sufficient workers with STEM training, while the foreign workers are supposedly already trained. And, if workers with such training are indeed needed, why wont these special mentoring programs be open to Americans? Why just offer them to foreign students? Since DHS admitted that its motivation in OPT is to circumvent the H-1B cap, does that mean that if the cap were high enough to accommodate everyone, these same foreign students wouldn’t need training after all?


    While lobbying Congress for more H-1B visas, industry claims H-1B workers are the “best and brightest”. Come payday, however, they’re entry-level workers.

    The GAO put out a report on the H-1B visa that discusses at some length the fact that the vast majority of H-1B workers are hired into entry-level positions. In fact, most are at “Level I”, which is officially defined by the Dept. of Labor as those who have a “basic understanding of duties and perform routine tasks requiring limited judgment”. Moreover, the GAO found that a mere 6% of H-1B workers are at “Level IV”, which is officially defined by the US Dept. of Labor as those who are “fully competent”[1]. This belies the industry lobbyists’ claims that H-1B workers are hired because they’re experts that can’t be found among the U.S. workforce.

    So this means one of two things: either companies are looking for entry-level workers (in which case, their rhetoric about needing “the best and brightest” is meaningless), or they’re looking for more experienced workers but only paying them at the Level I, entry-level pay scale. In my opinion, companies are using the H-1B visa to engage in legalized age discrimination, as the vast majority of H-1B workers are under the age of 35 [2], especially those at the Level I and Level II categories.

    Any way you slice it, it amounts to H-1B visa abuse, all facilitated and with the blessings of the US government.

    The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has never shown a sharp upward trend of Computer Science graduate starting salaries, which would indicate a labor shortage (remember – the vast majority of H-1B visas are granted for computer-related positions). In fact, according to their survey for Fall 2015, starting salaries for CS grads went down by 4% from the prior year. This is particularly interesting in that salaries overall rose 5.2% [3][4].


    [1] GAO-11-26: H-1B VISA PROGRAM – Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and Costs of Current Program
    [2] Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Report to Congress October 1, 2013 – September 30, 2014
    [3] NACE Fall 2015 Salary Survey
    [4] NACE Salary Survey – September 2014 Executive Summary

  • CodeMan

    No limits on caps by hiring an American. Only issue with an American is they will cost more and they might leave for a competitor. Improvements in management improve chances of retaining good American employees. Very Simple.