Hawaiʻi's Technology Community

Annual “Tech Visa” lottery leaves half of applicants disappointed

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 1,000,000 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.

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Comment by John Robert Egan on August 23, 2014 at 10:37am

@Dan Yes, I bought two copies, one for my own bookshelf and the other to lend out! I am a fan of Vivek Wadhwa's view, and it is very interesting to find his co-author here in Hawaii. Thanks for the heads-up.

Comment by Daniel Leuck on August 22, 2014 at 2:49pm

@John I agree.

On the subject of our country's furious expulsion of talent, have you read The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capt...? TechHui member Alex Salkever was a co-author.


Many of the United States’ most innovative entrepreneurs have been immigrants, from Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Graham Bell, and Charles Pfizer to Sergey Brin, Vinod Khosla, and Elon Musk. Nearly half of Fortune 500 companies and one-quarter of all new small businesses were founded by immigrants, generating trillions of dollars annually, employing millions of workers, and helping establish the United States as the most entrepreneurial, technologically advanced society on earth.

Comment by John Robert Egan on August 20, 2014 at 12:26pm

One of the most disheartening things about the current U.S. policy is that almost everyone agrees that it needs to be changed, but the dysfunctional state of our national politics is preventing any meaningful progress.

Comment by Pablo on August 20, 2014 at 8:54am

Yes, It's disappointed.

I'm from Argentina, and for me is like a mission impossible.

But I'll try.

Comment by Daniel Leuck on July 9, 2014 at 9:58am

Turning away such large numbers of well-educated high-skilled workers is a bad idea.

It is a painfully stupid policy that is damaging to US companies and economically unsupportable. At the core of the problem is the lack of a truly merit based approach. INS doesn't allow companies to hire based on specific sets of required skills. As a result we force highly educated foreign nationals to leave the country when they could be contributing their (often rare) skills to US companies.

Of course there are always bad companies looking to pay desperate foreign nationals low wages, and they should be dealt with, but in my 20 years of experience in the IT industry, I've seen far more cases of INS forcing highly educated and fairly compensated engineers out of the country because they happened to be born on a different rock.


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