Addressing the Mismatch: Eliminating the H-1B Cap to Meet Employer Demand for Employment-Based Visas in the US

The United States has long been a land of opportunity, attracting global talent and fostering innovation. However, the current system of employment-based visas falls short in meeting the increasing demand from employers. One particular visa category, the H-1B, has been subject to an annual cap that restricts the number of skilled foreign workers who can be hired. In order to address this mismatch between employer demand and the available visas, it is essential to advocate for the elimination of the H-1B cap.

While the employment numbers on a national scale are announced each month, the focus is on sheer numbers, like the unemployment rate, but what also drives the economy is the KIND of jobs that are going unfilled. There were almost one million foreign students on F-1 visas in the U.S. in 2022, and approximately 700,000 were enrolled in universities. Many of these students come to the U.S. not only to get a degree but also to be eligible for work visas and the leaders in the tech space, including engineering, are desperate to fill positions they need to grow and prosper.

Workers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) play an increasingly important role in the U.S. economy. STEM workers are critical to the country’s innovation, responsible for many of the cutting-edge ideas and technologies that create jobs and raise the living standards of U.S. households. Given their importance, workers with STEM training and skills are some of the most sought after in the labor market. Chronic shortages of specialized, high-skilled workers make it increasingly difficult to compete globally with STEM-related businesses worldwide.

According to the American Immigration Council, foreign-born workers make up a growing share of the country’s STEM workforce. As of 2019, immigrants made up almost one-fourth, or 23.1 percent, of all STEM workers in the entire country. This is a significant increase from 2000, when just 16.4 percent of the country’s STEM workforce was foreign-born. Between 2000 and 2019, the overall number of STEM workers in the United States increased by 44.5 percent, from 7.5 million to more than 10.8 million. These numbers don’t lie and reflect a dire need to fill STEM-filled positions, which are increasing as technology becomes integrated into almost all business types, which leads to the problem: There are not enough visas available to meet this need, even though there ARE enough foreign nationals in the U.S. to fill those positions once qualified American workers are all employed.

The principal visa used in these cases is the H-1B visa. This visa once had a cap of 195,000 per year in 2002/2003 when I started practicing law, and then suddenly was cut down by over 50%, even though the demand for qualified workers was on the rise. H-1B workers often possess unique skills and expertise that are in high demand in sectors such as technology, engineering, and healthcare. However, the current H-1B cap of 85,000 visas per year (65,000 regular cap and 20,000 for those with advanced degrees) falls woefully short in meeting the needs of employers. The cap is quickly reached, resulting in a lottery system that leaves many skilled workers unable to contribute to the US economy.

This constraint stifles growth, innovation, and competitiveness. Each year, we submit dozens of H-1B lottery registrations and if we are lucky 1/3 of them are selected, leaving employers scrambling to find someone else to fill positions and foreign nationals planning their return home. It is a complete waste of talent and opportunity under all the guise of “protecting American jobs”. To make things infinitely worse, USCIS changed its system for the lottery, allowing employers to submit electronic entries at a cost of $10, whereas before employers had to pay lawyers to submit paper petitions, at the risk of having them returned. This led to an explosion of H-1b registrations this April, with 758,994 entries submitted for 85,000 spots, a 60% increase over last year’s eligible registration pool. This goes to prove my point: US employers need foreign workers, many of whom are currently on Optional Practical Training and already trained by, and working for, the same employers, with the H-1B visa as the only real option to keep them in the US.

Let’s remove the politics and just talk economics. There are unlimited economic benefits to maximizing the foreign talent that is present in the U.S. Skilled foreign workers fill critical skill gaps, fuel innovation, and contribute to job creation. Numerous studies have shown that immigrants, including those on employment-based visas, play a significant role in founding successful startups and driving technological advancements. By eliminating the H-1B cap, the US can attract and retain top talent, promoting economic growth and maintaining its global leadership. In an increasingly interconnected world, countries around the globe are actively competing for talent. Restrictive visa policies hinder the ability of US employers to access a diverse pool of highly skilled workers. Other nations are eager to welcome these professionals, providing them with opportunities to contribute to their economies. By eliminating the H-1B cap, the United States can remain a magnet for talent and retain its competitive edge in a rapidly evolving global marketplace.

In summary, the current limitations on employment-based visas, particularly the H-1B cap, hinder US employers from accessing the skilled foreign workers they need to drive innovation and remain competitive in the global economy. Eliminating the H-1B cap would ensure that the US attracts and retains top talent, promotes economic growth, and addresses the skills gap in various industries. As we move forward, it is imperative to recognize the value that skilled immigrants bring and create a welcoming environment that allows them to contribute to the prosperity of the United States.

Foreign companies, particularly in countries like China and India, have been investing heavily in STEM education and cultivating a highly skilled workforce. They are increasingly becoming formidable competitors on the global stage. To remain at the forefront of innovation, US employers must be able to access the best talent from around the world. By eliminating the H-1B cap, US employers can recruit foreign professionals with specialized expertise in STEM fields, enabling them to keep pace with foreign competitors. These highly skilled workers bring fresh perspectives, diverse experiences, and knowledge of cutting-edge technologies, all of which contribute.

Foreign talent in STEM fields is a vital asset for US employers seeking to remain at the forefront of global competition. By eliminating the H-1B cap, the United States can ensure a robust pipeline of talent, foster innovation, and maintain its leadership position in scientific and technological advancements. Failure to do so risks falling behind foreign competitors and impeding economic growth in critical industries. It is important for policymakers to recognize the indispensability of foreign talent in STEM fields and create a visa system that enables US employers to attract and retain the brightest minds from around the world. This approach not only benefits individual companies but also bolsters the overall competitiveness and prosperity of the United States in the global arena of innovation and technological progress. ELIMINATE THE H-1B CAP!