28 May 2012

US visa demand rockets

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American officials confirmed on Friday that demand for the H-1B class of US visa has almost quadrupled compared to last year.

US visa

Demand for the H-1B class of US visa has almost quadrupled in a year.

Applications for the H-1B class of US visa began being accepted on 2, April and US Citizenship and Immigration Services has said that approximately 42,000 applications had already been received, up from 11,200 in the same period last year.

US immigration policy currently limits the numbers of H-1B visas allocated each year to 65,000. The upswing in applications has led some to predict the date at which that limit is reached as soon as next month, compared to November in 2011 and January 2011 for 2010's allocation.

The surge in applications marks the biggest increase since 2008, the year the financial crisis struck, and is being taken as many as an indicator of a recovering economy.

"I think it's a sign that the economy is improving overall," said Lynn Shotwell of the American Council on International Personnel who says that despite the unemployment rate remaining relatively high, foreign workers are vital to the economy's continuing recovery as "there's still a skills mismatch between the jobs that are available and the skills people have."

The H-1B visa allows foreign nationals with desired skills, including degrees in STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and maths), often those who have graduated from American universities, to live and work in the US for three years, with the option of extending this to six.

However, Associate Professor of Public Policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology Ron Hira says there could be many factors affecting the rate of visa applications.

"I don't think it's an indicator that the economy's picking up," said Mr Hira, who is an outspoken critic of visa policy in the United States.

The H-1B visa route has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks with Indian software giant Infosys under investigation over their use of the H-1B visa and the American government has promised to toughen up on visa policy.

Mr Hira says international firms are 'stocking up on the H-1 visas' before changes come into force.

The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries make their ESTA application.

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