The H1B Hunger Games: May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor:

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The H1B Hunger Games:  May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor:

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Every year, on April 1st, when our office files our H-1B applications, I am reminded of the scene from Hunger Games where Effie Trinket, the escort for the District 12 Tributes, draws the names of the Tributes at the annual reaping. Those Tributes will go on to participate in the Hunger Games and, if they survive, will gain income for life and superstar status. If they lose, they die a painful death.

This year, on the annual H-1B “reaping,” there were over 233,000 applications filed for the 65,000 visas available. USCIS conducted a computer-generated lottery system to select the winning H-1B applicants and 1 out of 3 applications were lucky enough to be chosen.

These 65,000 H1B visas are reserved for individual workers in “specialty occupations,” defined as jobs which require a bachelor’s degree or higher. Of that 65,000 number, 20,000 visas are carved out for jobs which require a Master Degree or higher. U.S. businesses use the H1B program to fill jobs with foreign workers in occupations that require highly specialized knowledge in fields such as science, technology, engineering and computer programming.

These workers represent the best and the brightest in our economy. The skills that they bring to the workforce better our way of life, improve our technologies and, in the long term, create jobs.

According to statistics from the Department of State, each year, we admit approximately 600,000 students in F-1 student status. We educate those students in our technologies, provide them the highest quality U.S. education and then, at the end of the four year period, we provide them a diploma and then send them back to China, India, and other countries to use what we have taught them abroad. At the end of the four year period, only 10{b6b8f04f7bd4b863c4cfed8339fd19419bda3e071c79bc5ac8c810cb9c52e30f} of those students are able to convert their status to H1B and contribute to our economy.

This is brain drain in the truest sense of the word.

I am not an advocate for unlimited visas. However, I am also opposed to arbitrary caps. What is so magic about 65,000 and why does that number not change? Can’t we figure out a way to issue a number of visas that reflects the actual needs of the economy and fluctuates based on demands in the labor force?

The time has come to reconsider our Hunger Games style immigration system for highly skilled workers. Congress has wrestled with this through the years. In 2015, the “I-Squared Bill” was introduced in Congress that would have raised the cap from 65,000 to 195,000 and would have eliminated the cap on people who earn advanced U.S. degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The bill was introduced in the Judiciary Committee and never went anywhere. But whether you make the number 65,000 or 195,000, to me the question remains, why an arbitrary number?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is the principal fact-finding agency for the U.S. government in the field of labor economics and statistics. The BLS is able to collect economic data based on multiple variables including industry, geography and other factors. It seems perfectly reasonable that BLS could determine the number of H1Bs to issue each year based on actual fluctuations and needs in the U.S. economy. If the economy demands and supports 500,000 workers, then that should drive the cap. If, on the other hand, the economy cannot sustain any, then that would drive the cap.

For now, however, we are stuck with the arbitrary and unchanging 65,000 number. Until we have a system that makes sense and response to the actual needs of our economy, we will all get to continue to participate in the annual H-1B reaping, and hope that the “odds are ever in our favor.”

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