Feds fill quota for high-tech work visas

US companies looking to hire skilled foreign workers have signed up for special work visas at the fastest rate in years. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services said earlier this week that it has filled its quota for the H-1B visa program, which is widely used by high-tech companies to recruit foreign engineers and technicians.

The US issues 85,000 such visas each year, and begins accepting new applications in April. During the technology boom of the past decade, the quota would be used up in just a few days. But that changed after the recession hit. It took nearly a year to make the 2010 quota, and nine months in 2011. This year’s quota has been filled in just over two months.

This could be an indication of stronger hiring at high-tech companies. But Ron Hira, associate professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology and a critic of US visa policy, has said that companies are requesting more H-1Bs because US immigration authorities have made it tougher to get other types of employment visas.

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