Built By Immigrants: the H1B Visa and How It Affects Startup Progress

On August 14, Launch DFW will partner with FWD.us, the Silicon Valley-backed immigration reform group to promote awareness to the need for immigration reform. While many of the Launch DFW members hold differing views on the correct next steps of immigration reform, we can agree the lack of H1B visas can play a role in slowing down the progress of a start-up.

Technology firms and start-ups are at the forefront of suffering for lack of skilled workers – in fact, the Austin Chamber of Commerce touts that there are 7,000 jobs in that town alone that are not filled due to the lack of skilled workers. We believe an increase in the pool of talent can help start-ups realize their potential and because of this, we need to modify the amount of H1B visas allowed. First, we need to understand what an H1B visa is and the process to acquire one.

What is an H1B Visa?

According to workpermit.com, an H1B Visa is defined as a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields such as in architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, and medicine. In addition, these visas are very restrictive. Some of the requirements for H1B Visa eligibility include:

  • You must have an employer-employee relationship with the petitioning U.S. employer.
  • Your job must qualify as a specialty occupation
    –  A bachelor’s degree or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for the particular position.
    –  The degree requirement is common for this position in the industry, or the job is so complex or unique that it can only be performed by someone with at least a bachelor’s degree in a field related to the position.
    –  The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position.
    –  The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree.
  • Your job must be in a specialty occupation related to your field of study.
  • You must be paid at least the actual or prevailing wage for your occupation, whichever is higher.
  • An H-1B visa number must be available at the time of filing the petition, unless the petition is exempt from numerical limits.

How Many H1B Visas are there?

In 1998, the cap for the H1B Visas was 115,000, yet the cap was rarely reached. The American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 temporarily increased the cap limit to 195,000 for FY 2001-2003, and exempted all individuals hired by institutions of higher education or nonprofit and government research organizations. In 2004, the H-1B Visa Reform Act mandated that “…the first 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of aliens with U.S.-earned masters’ or higher degrees will be exempt from any fiscal year cap…”

Additionally, universities, nonprofit research organizations affiliated with universities, and governmental research organizations are exempt from the H-1B cap. For all other new H-1B applicants, the Congressionally mandated H-1B visa cap is 65,000 annually.

Limits and the Problem

With the now 65,000 H1B cap, the number of those applying for H1B Visas who get denied is staggering. In fact, For FY2008, the entire quota was exhausted before the end of the first day that applications were accepted, April 2. The 123,480 petitions received on April 2 and April 3 that were subject to the cap were pooled, and then 65,000 of these were selected at random for further processing. This means that in the first two days of the application process about twice as many people submitted applications for the amount of H1B Visas given out for the year.

Our education system provides many of these H1B Visa applicants with the tools needed for their job. However, if they are not randomly selected, then they are sent back to their home country, with the training we provided. Moreover, we sit in a country that is devoid of programming talent, causing the price of programming to increase, and/or causing the amount of time for programming to increase – both of which hinder the growth of start-ups.

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