The USCIS' recently updated its regular cap FY 2009 H-1B cap count. The update of 44,000 accepted petitions, up from 42,000 in the first announcement, means a run rate of about 1,000 petitions per week. At this rate it may be five or six months until the H-1B cap is reached.

In prior years we have seen more than twice as many H-1B cases accepted as slots were available. These numbers provide compelling evidence against the argument that internationally-trained workers are being used to displace American workers and lower US workers salaries. That argument just doesn't jibe with what is actually happening.

If H-1B visa labor was being used primarily to lower US workers salaries, the H-1B filing numbers wouldn't be impacted to any meaningful degree. Why? Because the incentive to reduce workers' salaries is likely greater in a recessed economy, not less. This logic is straightforward and convincing.

Yet, this year we've seen a dramatic downtick in H-1B visas filed in industries like Information Technology and Finance. Meanwhile industries with continued staffing shortages, such as healthcare and teaching, continued to file H-1B Petitions. If the H-1B program was being used to lower salaries, why aren't the IT and financial industries continuing to file H-1B petitions? Are these industries not interested in cutting costs?

It bears worth repeating: if the H-1B program is used to reduce US workers salaries, why haven't the H-1B Petition numbers continued in industries where every dollar is increasingly important?

In point of fact, the H-1B program is largely used to supplement worker supply shortages and attract the international superstars to the US. This isn't to say that there aren't the occasional bad actors who abuse the system. But the relative paucity of H-1B enforcement actions calls into serious question that there is any large-scale fraud inherent in the system. Particularly noteworthy is the complete lack of any arrests or prosecutions in the wake of a well-publicized
September 2008 DHS report on H-1B Benefit Fraud.

Critics of the H-1B system fail to acknowledge just how well the system actually works. In robust times, the H-1B system allows growing companies to attract more workers from overseas when they can't fill those jobs with US workers. In down times, when jobs are few, the market does what it is supposed to do and fewer H-1B job offers are made.

If Congress really wants to reform the H-1B process, it ought to eliminate the arbitrary quota and just let the market sort out the numbers question. Congress also ought to give non-bachelor degree occupations with well-documented staffing shortages, such as nursing, access to the H-1B program.

-Chris Musillo