Less than a week after the application period opened for 2017 H-1B visas, the annual cap of 65,000 general visas and 20,000 visas for workers with advanced U.S. degrees has been hit, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said in a statement last Thursday. The non-immigrant H-1B visa allows companies to hire non-American workers in specialized fields that companies say can't be filed with American talent. This is the fourth year in a row that the H-1B cap has been hit in under a week.
USCIS, the federal agency that operates the H-1B visa program, will select who receives the visas by random lottery. In 2016, over 200,000 total applications were filed for 85,000 visas, according to USCIS.
The H-1B visa program has seen criticism, with some U.S. companies saying it forces them to send top prospects, many of whom were educated in the States, back to their home countries.
According to Bill Stock, a Philadelphia immigration attorney and incoming president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, many companies will hire graduates and sponsor them for the visa all years they are eligible and still be unable to acquire a visa. Workers who earn a degree in the United States in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics field can work for up to three years in the United States during an "Option Practical Training" period without an H-1B visa. According to Stock, there is a roughly one-in-three chance of obtaining a visa through the lottery.
"It's hopeful that a number get through," Stock told NBC News. "But every year we have employers who have to look at a high potential worker and say, 'You can't stay we'd love to keep you but we lost the lottery."
Possible changes to the the current system proposed by companies include removing the cap entirely or giving priority to graduates of American schools.
"We attracted people from other countries to attend the best schools on Earth," Stock said. "Why can't they stay? We have students from Korea, China, India attending the best universities in the world, and then we say, 'Go back home. You can start a business or work for an employer in your home country.'"