Silicon Valley braces for H1-B visa lottery

March 28, 2008 7:02:17 PM PDT
A high-stakes lottery kicks off next Tuesday that only immigrants can win. The prize is an H1-B visa that allows them to stay and work in the U.S., and there's no place where the stakes are higher than Silicon Valley.

It's clear that talent comes to Silicon Valley from all over the world. However, the U.S. limits the number of immigrants awarded temporary work visas, known as H-1Bs. Sixty-five-thousand are allocated for the coming year, but the number of applicants could be three to five times greater. That means tens of thousands of rejections.

"You don't want to send them home to compete against us, right? You want to keep them here, make them Americans, and create jobs and growth here in the United States," says San Jose Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.

Lofgren is chair of the House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee. She points out that winners of the visa lottery are well educated. Last year, 45 percent of them had bachelors degrees, 39 percent had masters, and 11 percent had Ph.D.s. Almost half of them work in computer related jobs.

However, H-1B visa holders cannot take jobs from Americans -- a potential sore spot as the economy slows and layoffs grow.

Mike Curran directs the Nova Job Training Program in Silicon Valley. He says cutbacks in funding can hurt the local jobseeker.

"The people who are out of work, who feel that they can't get the skills or the networking to create the new jobs, they get very hostile about it because they believe the job opportunity has moved to somebody else," says Curran.

In the meantime, there are proposals in Congress for reform. Democrat Lofgren is trying to raise the number of permanent visas and Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas has introduced a bill to triple the number of H-1B visas.

The competition for H-1B visas has been so fierce, some companies in the past have been known to file multiple applications for the same person. The immigration service says this year it won't allow that, saying if it receives multiple applications, that candidate will be automatically be rejected.