Government and Human Resources

Temporary employment visas expected to go fast

Legislative inaction means same number will be available again.

February 28, 2014
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Congress’ continued inaction on immigration means the 65,000 available temporary H1B visas will likely go fast again this year.

The 2014 application round opens April 1, and businesses are encouraged to apply immediately.

“My expectation is that they will be highly sought after (again),” said Nathaniel Wolf, attorney with Mika Meyers Beckett & Jones. “I think we are seeing an uptick in demand for specialty occupations for professional positions that the H1B covers.

“If a company has someone they are looking at for those positions, then they would be well counseled to get their applications in by April 1. I think this will be another year where they will be spoken for very quickly.”

H1B visas are provided to highly skilled foreign nationals with expertise in fields such as the sciences, technology, medicine, business, education, law and the arts.

To obtain an H1B visa for a worker, the worker must hold a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent.

Under current law, 65,000 H1B visas are allocated each year, and another 20,000 are provided for foreign nationals holding U.S. master’s degrees. Nonprofits and higher education employers are exempt from the cap.

The program is extremely popular, reaching the cap regularly, and typically within only a couple of months of becoming available — and this year won’t be any different.

“The Mark Zuckerbergs and Googles are not the only ones advocating for more H1B visas; West Michigan companies are too,” said Susan Im, an immigration attorney with ImLaw. “Many of our thriving West Michigan businesses rely on our immigration system to make sure they can access the talent they need.”

There is a continued call to raise the H1B visa limit to allow more companies to access the talent they need from abroad.

“I think it’s a good start, some of the proposals I’ve seen to raise the H1Bs by a certain amount, and then they’ve also proposed a market escalator,” Im said.

Bing Goei, executive director of the Michigan Office for New Americans, said there is a talent dearth in Michigan in the science, technology, math and engineering fields, and it will be years before the state catches up to the growing demand, which is projected to be 274,000 jobs by 2018.

He pointed out that today’s manufacturing jobs require advanced degrees.

“We have, unfortunately, a low rate of four-year degree individuals living in the state of Michigan,” Goei said.

“The need has shifted, the economy has shifted. If you look at Michigan Future Inc., they have done a lot of studies on how many people earn degrees, and we are ranked lower middle — and Grand Rapids is not that high, either.”

H1B visas are one of the few immigration tools currently available to attract talent from abroad.

According to the “Empowering Entrepreneurs” report, which looked at the entrepreneurship climate in West Michigan, the region could use more international talent.

The report, which was commissioned by the Seidman College of Business and The Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, found Grand Rapids is the worst compared to its cohort cities in the ratio of H1B immigrants to the total number of foreign immigrants. It is also weak in using H1B visas to attract talent.

The report points to the importance of diversity in spurring entrepreneurship and says Grand Rapids is below average in racial diversity.

“Future policies to attract specialized talent from abroad and attracting more capital will help foster growth of entrepreneurship in the region,” reads the report.

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