H-1B applicants hope for best, plan for worst

With 65,000 H-1B visas available, IT hiring managers and immigration experts say to have Plan B ready

US companies sponsoring an H-1B visa applicant this week should not only be triple-checking paperwork as the April 1 filing deadline approaches, but should also be preparing alternatives to put in place if attempts to secure an H-1B hire fail.

IT hiring managers familiar with the process say they expect their hopes of attaining one of the 65,000 H-1B visas allotted for 2009 to be dashed by midday April 1.

"It's a challenge to get an H-1B visa because they run out so fast. We apply for some, but don't count on them. With the nature of H-1B today -- they are nearly impossible to get if you are late to the game for a new application -- it is not company policy to not go for them, but we know it can be a long shot," says Jennifer Russell, vice president and director of recruiting at direct-marketing firm Digitas in the US.

Last year, the government received more than double the number of applications than slots to be filled within hours, and this year industry watchers anticipate more of the same.

"The backlog is so huge, I don't expect to see any change in the H-1B results," says Roger Cochetti, group director of US Public Policy at CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association.

For that reason, many of those looking to fill positions are looking for alternative hiring plans, considering the increased demand for what seems to many to be too few available visas.

"You put an offer out for an H-1B, but you aren't sure if you are going get it. If you do, the hire doesn't start work until October. Basically you try to fill the position and just cross your fingers that it works out in the end," Russell says.

Pay for premium application filing

To start, immigration experts advise companies to do their homework about the candidate they are sponsoring as well as the specifics required in the application.

"Even if an application gets selected out of the pool, if there are any errors in the application, it will be rejected immediately," says Peter Roberts, partner at corporate immigration law firm McCarter & English. "Clearly you have to get it in the first day, but there is pressure to have no errors or unflagged issues."

To avoid those issues, most companies employ immigration experts to handle the visa application process and wait for results of the random selection process. But to reduce the wait time, Roberts says sponsor companies could choose to pay US$1,000 for "premium processing," which would deliver results of the application within 10 days. Premium processing would also give the sponsoring company a specific case agent to call if there is a request for evidence from the government, for instance.

"If you choose this option, it is easier to deal with requests for evidence and you get a much quicker response when you have an officer to call at the premium processing unit," he explains.

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