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Annual “Tech Visa” lottery leaves half of applicants disappointed

IMMIGRATION INSIGHTS: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service ran its annual selection process to distribute the quota of 85,000 high-skilled worker visas among over 172,000 applicants in April. Tech firms who rely on the H-1B visa category are finding this bottleneck in the labor market increasingly difficult to manage and appear to be developing strategies for long-term workarounds. This week Microsoft announced the opening of a new tech hub in Vancouver, partly due to Canada’s more efficient visa process.

There are now nearly 900,000 international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities, and it is reasonable to guess that roughly 200,000 to 400,000 complete their programs and graduate every year. And then decide whether to compete for just 85,000 visas.

This is not just a Seattle problem, half of the H-1B candidates from our own Hawaii-based tech sector firms were also disappointed. It is worth remembering that the number of international engineers, coders and programmers employed and collaborating in an aspiring technology and innovation ecosystem is a reliable proxy for its vitality and growth potential.

Turning away such large numbers of well-educated high-skilled workers is a bad idea. To repeat the mistake every April is compounding the error, and the consequences are now becoming apparent.