H-1 work visas in high demand: Lottery system to be used

SAN DIEGO - Every year tens of thousands of highly-skilled workers apply for a U.S. work visa. This year, there are so many that a lottery system is being used.

H-1 visas temporarily allow highly-skilled, non-immigrants with specialized jobs to work in the United States. There are only 65,000 of them given out every year, but this year, there were 124,000 applicants.

"This is a big deal in San Diego," said immigration attorney Steven Riznyk. "We depend on thousands of H-1s here."

He added, "If there are 124,000 applicants, there's 124,000 jobs that were offered to people. That's confidence in biotech, tech and defense."

That means companies like Qualcomm, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Northrop Grumman are on a hiring spree. Riznyk said it is also a positive sign for the U.S. economy.

However, there is a downside for the companies needing to fill highly-specialized positions and for the 39,000 people who will not get a work visa.

So how will the government decide who gets one? A lottery.  

"The system just doesn't make sense," said Riznyk.

He believes the H-1 visa program needs serious reform.

"We have awesome universities building the best of the best and what do we do? We train them and then we say goodbye," he said.

That is almost what happened to Shuo Wang, who is working at Qualcomm.

"If you don't have enough candidates domestically, you should make it easier for all of them, for the employer and the candidates," he said.

Srini's wife moved to San Diego from India on a dependent visa hoping to get an H-1 visa. Now, she'll be among the 124,000 people hoping to win one in the lottery.

"That makes me feel terrible because she tagged along with me to come here… and now she cannot work because of me, so I feel guilty," he said.

The last time a lottery was used for H-1 visas was 2008. A date for the lottery has not been set yet.

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