It's a race for America's cap.
Today, employers around the country will submit as many H1-B visa applications as they can, hoping to get federal approval before the cap of 80,000 is triggered.
Immigration reform will no doubt expand the H1-B program, but for the next year, at least, only 80,000 new visas will be issued. The visas expire in six years, meaning that many researchers, post-docs, and young technology workers may be forced to go home simply because... well, because their application was not processed in time, or because someone else bumped them out of the way.
Neil Ruiz of the Brookings Institute says that the cap was met in just 10 weeks last year, implying that demand for the visas far outpaces the artificial limit that Congress has imposed on these specific skill work permits.
The comprehensive immigration reform debate kicked off with a Senate bill called the Immigration and Innovation Act of 2013 (I-Squared Act). Under this proposal, instead of a static cap, there would be an "H-1B escalator" that automatically adjusts the cap depending on demand. The proposal raises the initial H-1B cap to 115,000 and, depending on how quickly the cap is met in a given year, it would increase incrementally, by up to 20,000 visas the following year. Likewise, if the cap is not met in a given year, it would decrease by no more than 20,000 visas the following year. The I-Squared Act proposes that the cap be no fewer than 115,000 and no greater than 300,000. At the very least, it would take 10 consecutive years of reaching the cap within 45 days to hit the upper limit of 300,000 visas.
Ironically, the quicker the cap is met this year, the more pressure there will be on Congress to pass legislation expanding it.