2013 H1-B Visa Cap Remains the Same

On April 1, the US Citizen and Immigration Services will begin accepting applications for the coveted H1-B visas that will let high-skilled foreign workers hold jobs in the United States in 2013. In the past few years, high unemployment rates in the US have prompted criticism of the visa program, which allows the hiring of as many as 65,000 foreign workers.

That cap has not been raised for 2013, though the application fee hikes will remain in effect through Sept. 30, 2014. Beginning in 2010, a new law required the submission of an additional fee of $2,000 for certain H-1B petitions and $2,250 for certain L-1A and L-1B petitions.

Last year, the H1-B visa cap for 2012 was reached in November. That was slow compared with previous years, when the cap was reached within days.

The visa awards may be less controversial this year, because unemployment rates appear to be falling. The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of US workers filing unemployment claims has fallen to its lowest level since 2008.

Initial jobless claims fell by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 359,000 in the week ended March 24, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast that claims would increase by 2,000.
The prior week's figure was revised to 364,000 from a previously reported 348,000. Labor made its annual adjustment to seasonal factors this week, causing revisions to claims data back to 2007. As a result, recent weeks' figures were adjusted up…
Still, the unemployment rate remained high last month at 8.3% and may decline only gradually.

There remains a disparity between the needs of the US manufacturing industry and the skill level of available workers. Yesterday, I cited a survey by the manufacturing consortium Prime Advantage that said manufacturing companies are struggling to fill open positions. (See: Midsized Manufacturers Upbeat About 2012.)

Fifty-seven percent of the survey respondents said they had unfilled positions (more than double last year’s 23 percent). And 65 percent of respondents with open positions cited the inability to find skilled workers locally as the main reason for this problem. Competition for talent and labor force immobility were also cited as causes.

One reason for the disparity might be a gap between the skills required in the manufacturing workforce. To cut costs and compete with low-cost foreign labor, US manufacturers have been investing in automation. Although people are required to operate the machines, specific training is required. Prime Advantage reports that companies are investing in training and retraining employees. As a long-term solution, respondents emphasized promoting manufacturing as a strong career choice in local educational institutions.

H1-Bs have always been a hot button in the high-tech industry. Proponents argue that the visas are good for the industry, because they bring specialty skills into the US. Opponents argue that they displace US workers who need jobs. What has been your company's experience in finding workers? Has it hired foreign workers to work in the US?

11 comments on “2013 H1-B Visa Cap Remains the Same

  1. bolaji ojo
    March 29, 2012

    The need and type of people who apply for the H1-B visa will continue to evolve. If we pay close attention, though, we'll find this process tells as much about us as it does about the applicants. Will applicants snap up the visas, will we have to scrap the program because some believe we don't need it or will we scrap it simply because demand falls off?

  2. bolaji ojo
    March 29, 2012

    Rich, I don't believe US Congress will unilaterally scrap the program either. However, the utility to manufacturers and potential foreign employees may determine its continued value. Considering the size of the US economy, I don't believe the 65,000 per year visa allocation will directly impact employment and I don't see it as the main factor repressing wages either.

    You may be right that it is being abused and that should be corrected. It costs employers a lot to recruit foreign employees plus there's a limit to the number of years such workers can stay in the US. It's not the best way to run a business by simply relying on “cheap imported labor.”

  3. Nemos
    March 29, 2012

    There are a lot of high skilled people out-there as long US industry needs trained person I believe the H1-B Visa will help both sides ( unemployment foreigners, American Industry)

  4. Houngbo_Hospice
    March 29, 2012


    “The fall in claims merely indicates (and I emphasize the word indicates) that the pool is not growing as fast as it did previously. “

    The fall in claims may also be due to the fact that people no longer apply for jobs because they are fed up to be told that they don't have the skills companies need. But globally it is good indication that the economy is recovering. 

  5. prabhakar_deosthali
    March 29, 2012

    It is my observation that many a engineers from India who go to US for further studies finally end up taking Finance jobs. So the original skill sets by which they enter US is not utlised at all.

    Such migration from  an engineering career to a non engineering career defeats the basic purpose for which they got entry into US

    May be US immigration laws should impose some restrictions of alloting H1-B visas to such cases thereby ensuring that the visas are used for the right purpose.

  6. Eldredge
    March 30, 2012

    Since they are issued for highly skilled employment, one could also argue that the economic impact (assuming that a domestic worker could have been placed in the same capacity) is disproportionate to the number of visas issued.

  7. Barbara Jorgensen
    March 30, 2012

    @RichardK: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Your points have also been brought out by several communications EBN received by e-mail that I will use as a basis for a follow-up article. The issue of H1-Bs being used to bring in workers who are paid less than US counterparts continues to be a problem.

    I also agree that the gap between US unemployment and number of available workers is a story within itself. Electronics companies used to measure the skill set in the industry by the number of EEs US universities turn out and that is no longer the correct measuring stick. Design and manufacturing are two different things and require different skill sets. Its possible mechanical engineering is a better measurement but that is something I will need to check on, or if readers have a better idea, we'd love to hear from you.

    Thanks again! 

    March 30, 2012

    In electronics and other high tech fields there are many foreign workers in US companies.  It is very difficult to find US nationals with the right skills.  I am surprised there are only 65k H1 visas per year.

  9. ahdand
    March 31, 2012

    Yes but in many european and american countries there is a huge skill shortage for technology and electronics.

  10. Taimoor Zubar
    March 31, 2012

    I don't think it's a good idea to apply a cap to the overall number of visas that can be issued in a year. It's better that the cap is placed on the number each industry can have. In some industries there may be acute shortage of labor so the cap can be raised while in others there might be abundant supply of local labor so the cap can be lowered. US will be in a better position to manage their labor demand and supply through this and also handle the unemployment rates more efficiently.

  11. Daniel
    April 3, 2012

    Flyingscot, I think government or companies have to provide continuous education to upgrade the employee’s skills. US is one of the nation having highly educated citizens, but why they are lagging in skills. It implies that once you got a job, there after we are not showing any interest in skill updation. If we are able to generate those talented employees, then there won’t be any need of foreign employees in US.

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