San Diego Business Journal: Visa Cap May Blunt Competitive Edge

WORKFORCE: Critics Say Program Undercuts Citizens

By BRITTANY MEILING, San Diego Business Journal
May 22, 2015

The growing demand for highly skilled foreign workers in biotech and information technology is rekindling debate about the motivation driving companies to hire foreign talent.

The most popular work visa for college-educated immigrants — the H-1B — is capped at 85,000 per year by the federal government. This year, only five days into the application period for fiscal 2016, that application window was closed early due to an excess of petitions submitted. This makes the third year in a row the yearly cap was met within five days.

Many San Diego companies, especially those in the high-tech and science sectors, have submitted applications for H-1B visas, according to corporate immigration attorney Teodora Purcell at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP.

“This is the go-to work authorization for medical device companies, life science research organizations, pharmaceutical companies and even startups focusing on very specific fields for a particular drug or technology,” Purcell said.

This year, a record 233,000 petitions for H-1B visas were submitted in the first week, the vast majority of which were automatically rejected. Last year, California companies sponsored more H-1B visas than any other state in the country, and San Diego made up a significant portion of those applications due to its growing biotech and technology sectors.

Industry groups such as the California Life Sciences Association, along with numerous local corporations, posit that the cap on foreign talent is handicapping the region’s ability to compete.

“Talent drives companies, and if we can’t find the talent then our companies won’t grow as quickly, they won’t hire other positions and they won’t be competitive,” said Kevin Carroll, executive director of the tech industry group Software San Diego.

Read full article at the San Diego Business Journal (subscription may be required).