July 21, 2024

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Capping H-1B visas at 85,000 could cripple U.S. growth in tech like AI, an expert says: ‘We are actively shooting our future selves in the foot’

2 min read

As the annual H-1B lottery opens Wednesday, the program’s annual cap of 85,000 visas is once again under scrutiny, with some experts and business leaders calling it a threat to U.S. innovation.

An H-1B visa is reserved for foreign workers in specialty fields who have a job offer from a U.S. employer. Though the visa holders can work in any field, they’re especially prevalent in tech and other STEM jobs, including AI. Top companies including Amazon, Meta, and Salesforce have sponsored tens of thousands of H-1B workers over the past few years alone.

The visas have become a talking point among anti-immigration conservatives. Donald Trump controversially suspended the program temporarily while in office, while presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy said he would “gut” the program and create an “actual meritocratic admission.” Other critics say recipients take away jobs from Americans.

But tech leaders, many of whom spoke out against Trump’s visa freeze, say the U.S. actually has the opposite problem: Rather than restricting the H-1B program, it should be expanded. Currently, 65,000 visas—a figure that hasn’t changed in more than two decades—can be awarded each year via a lottery, while another 20,000 can go to those who earn a graduate degree in the U.S.

Demand is overwhelming supply: In 2023, hundreds of thousands of applicants were denied. That hurts those workers, of course, but also companies, says Allison Ahern Fillo, a Boston-based immigration attorney. Some companies she represents are forced to apply for a visa for the same job candidate multiple years in a row.

“It’s really unfortunate that a U.S. employer wants to be able to employ someone and it’s really up to chance,” Fillo tells Fortune. “They vetted the person, they’re the right person for the job.”

Aaron Levie, CEO of cloud company Box, recently wrote on X that the discrepancy between demand and the number of visas granted should “make you go…

Alicia Adamczyk

2024-03-06 12:10:27

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