The U.S. government will begin doling out high-skilled worker visas through a lottery system after applications exceeded the cap a week after the enrollment period began.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Tuesday that the 65,000 cap on new applications for skilled visas had already been hit for the year. That includes another 20,000 visas that will be handed out to people with a master’s degree or higher that will not count against the cap.
The agency had anticipated the rush of applications when enrollment started on April 1, and the news will only bolster the effort of reform advocates who say the current cap on the visa program — known as H-1B — should be increased. The cap has been routinely and quickly hit in recent years.
“This incredible demand is the latest evidence that our high-skilled immigration system is broken and failing to keep the world’s top talent here in the United States,” TechNet President Linda Moore said in a statement.
The visas are particularly important to the computer industry, which takes up about half of the high-skilled visas. Tech advocates, like FWD.us and others, had launched a campaign to coincide with the enrollment period, highlighting the plight of PJ Cobut, the co-founder of Echo Labs, who has said he would have to move his company out of the Untied States if his application was not selected.
The program requires those visa holders to be paid comparable wages and benefits as U.S. workers, a provision meant to remove the economic incentive to hire cheaper foreign workers. But critics argue that companies are able to skirt the requirement in practice.
Most observers see little chance that any kind of immigration reform will be able to move ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Nonetheless, a bipartisan group of senators pushed legislation that would raise the cap to between 115,00 and 195,000 per year, depending on demand and the market. The proposal has run into resistance from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and other Republicans who want to plug up loopholes to abuse in the existing program, and argue an increase would only make the problem worse.