H1b Visas- Is Now the Right Time to Act?

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H1b Visas- Is Now the Right Time to Act?

H1b Visas- Is Now the Right Time to Act?

December 28, 2011

By:  Tejas Shah

Recent newspaper articles (Chicago Tribune, Dec. 26, 2011) indicate that the state’s 10% unemployment rate could decrease, and that the healthcare and accounting fields in particular are forecasted to see an uptick in hiring. Employers interested in hiring foreign nationals in these fields should be conscious of both the opportunities and challenges in hiring such workers. Many doctors, nurses, and accountants could qualify for H-1B status. The single biggest challenge to meeting your hiring needs in a timely fashion is the H-1B quota. For those unfamiliar with the specifics of the quota or “cap”, Congress has mandated an annual quota of 65,000 new H-1B applications plus an additional 20,000 quota for those who are holders of U.S. Masters Degrees or higher.  The filing season begins on April 1st of every year and approved applicants can only begin to work on October 1st of that same calendar year. Those who have been previously approved for H-1B status within the past 6 years are not subject to the quota, and some organizations sponsoring foreign nationals for H-1B visas are exempt from the quota. In past years, as the economy stuttered, the quota was not exhausted until very late in the calendar year. However, 2011 offered signs of improvement as the quota was completely exhausted in November. Many economists now believe that our economy is slowly but steadily improving, and this could mean that we return to the good old days (or bad, depending on your perspective!) when the quota was exhausted within days of availability and employers and immigration attorneys scrambled to submit new applications between April 1st-5th, when USCIS would run a lottery on new applications.

Keeping this possible timeline in mind, employers interested in hiring foreign national nurses and accountants must act quickly. New H-1B applications generally necessitate at least 2 weeks of preparatory time. Furthermore, in the case of nurses and doctors in particular, educational equivalency assessments are essential. The Immigration and Nationality Act designates the ECFMG as the appropriate body for educational evaluations for foreign national physician degree holders, and the CGFNS as the body for foreign nationals holding foreign nursing degrees. H-1B requirements are particularly favorable to certain types of nurses, such as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN), although Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Practical Nurses, and Licensed Vocational Nurses may also qualify for H-1B status depending on the employer’s requirements, past practices, and general trends within the industry as well as state licensing requirements.

Accountants face similar, although less exclusive, requirements. An educational evaluation is always advisable for foreign nationals with a Bachelors Degree from a foreign country (although this may not be necessary if they have a U.S. Masters Degree). The accountant position itself has been previously recognized by USCIS as a “specialty occupation”, which is a pre-requisite for H-1B status. Other considerations would remain, including the size of the business, whether or not it is owner-operated, and whether it is a new business.

The forecasted increase in hiring in the healthcare and accounting fields in 2012 is a reason to be optimistic about the state of the economy. Nevertheless, employers seeking to hire foreign nationals in these positions must act quickly if they wish to take full advantage of the opportunities that an improving economy offers to hire the best workers in light of the challenge presented by the H-1B quota.