Less than a week after opening applications April 1, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced petitions for H-1B visas has exceeded the 85,000 allotted by law. This is the fourth year in a row the cap was surpassed in less than a week, meaning workers will face a lottery for the visas, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The cap includes "65,000 visas for the general category and 20,000 for the advanced degree exemption," according to a USCIS news release

H-1B visas play a major role in the Silicon Valley economy in particular. The San Jose Mercury News, citing data from Join Venture Silicon Valley, reported that foreign-born workers make up the majority in several areas of the region's economy:

  • 67.3 percent of computer and mathematical jobs
  • 60.9 percent of architectural and engineering jobs
  • 48.7 percent of the natural sciences jobs
  • 41.3 percent of the medical and health services jobs

Part of the H-1B visa cap conversation surrounds uncertainty about how to handle immigration issues of startup founders, for whom no visa is specifically designed. Immigrants make up 44 percent of Silicon Valley founders, according to the Kauffman Foundation as cited in Bloomberg. Of 87 U.S. unicorn startups, or startups valued at more than $1 billion, 44 had immigrant founders

Critics of the H-1B program have accused tech companies of using the visas so they can hire workers at lower salaries than they would pay U.S. citizens. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has described the program as "very, very bad for workers" and has even suggested eliminating it entirely, sending chills through Silicon Valley proponents of expanding the program. 

Tech executives like Mark Zuckerberg maintain that the visas fill a critical need for skilled engineers and other tech industry roles. Todd Schulte, president of Zuckerberg's immigration reform lobbying group FWD.us, said in a statement that hitting the cap underscores a need for immigration reform. 

"Immigration has long been our country's greatest competitive advantage in a global economy, and we should be encouraging the best and the brightest to continue to grow their businesses and create American jobs here at home, instead of denying those dreams and encouraging them to do so in other countries for our competitors," he said. 

Published on: Apr 7, 2016