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Volume of H1-B tech visas drop in SA, but demand for help remains high

25 Jun

Companies are still banking on using foreign-born employees for technology jobs in San Antonio, though there were fewer H-1B requests on file for roles to start from June through December, federal records show.

In San Antonio, the number of labor certification applications, filed by employers and staffing agencies dropped since federal reforms sought to restrict usage of the program.

There were 625 applications for developers and software engineers filed by companies for work to begin during the second half of this year, down from 1,456 applications during the same time frame last year. That follows a statewide trend, in which only 26,985 visa waiver requests were made, down from 44,181 to start work from June through December the prior year.

Last year the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services plans to take a “more targeted approach” with its site visits and focus on H-1B-dependent employers and employers seeking H-1B visas for people who work inside another company’s office, the agency announced. The new rules sought to make sure only those who qualified as a specialty would be used in the program.

Meanwhile, the drop in applications does not reflect a decline in employer demand for these visas, immigration lawyers who file requests on behalf of companies told the Business Journal. Instead, they have seen the opposite.

“We have not seen a decrease in demand, but rather an increase in delay regarding processing times, increased visa denials or delays,” said Faye Kolly, a partner at law firm DeMott, McChesney, Curtright and Armendariz LLP in Austin.

Kolly filed some H-1B visa waiver requests on behalf of Andeavor in the past year. She suggested that there is overall employer frustration stemming from uncertainty about the future of the program.

Likewise, Robert Loughran managing partner at Foster LLP in Austin who works with clients in San Antonio, said he’s seen about a 10 percent increase in demand for access to H-1B visas from employers in the past year.

“I think employers are scrambling to find qualified employees [for tech jobs]. They are going to look at citizens first, but given the low unemployment rate, it’s hard,” Loughran said. “We’re hearing from numerous employers that they need a specific person and they’ve searched the job market but can’t find a citizen. Then they found a candidate who needs an H-1B and now have to wait until April of next year.”

In some cases, employers are getting creative by sourcing developers from Canada, Mexico, Australia, Chile and Singapore because there are different visa processes for bringing in workers from those countries, which could be an alternative to fill the gap. Loughran suggested that instead of a stagnant cap, it could fluctuate alongside the unemployment rate to be more adaptable to shifts in the market.

“The world moves by the ability to meet demands for a customer. A lot of times employers are looking for [temporary] capacity with the ability to do a specific type of work,” he said. H-1B visas “are a matter of last resort. There are filing fees, legal fees, waiting time and administrative time. Why would anyone do it if they didn’t need to?