Visas For Foreign Technical Workers

Maryland has many computer, biotechnical and "high tech" oriented businesses, a number of which have trouble recruiting qualified technical professionals, in part because U.S. colleges do not produce enough graduates to meet demand.

These businesses may want to consider obtaining a visa for and hiring qualified foreign workers to fill these positions. Federal immigration law provides for these visas, known as H I B I visas. They are available gen-erally to U.S. employers and are relatively easy to obtain, typically taking several weeks, not several months, to process.

The H1B1 category is for aliens coming to the U.S. to carry on a "specialty occupation," one that "requires a theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge" and usually a bachelor's degree or higher in that specialized area. The alien must also have any required state license and any required degree. Many specialty occupations require no license; e.g., a computer systems analyst needs no license in Maryland, but may need a degree in computer sciences or a related field. In some cases, experience may be substituted for a degree.

The employer hiring an H1B1 alien must be a U.S.-based employer with an IRS tax identification number, though it can be partly or wholly foreign owned. Initially the em-ployer must file with the U.S. Department of Labor a "Labor Condition Application" (LCA) attesting that it will pay the "required wage rate," that it is not subject to a strike or a lockout to the occupational classification at the place of employment, and that the notice of the LCA filing has been given to its employees.

Once the Department of Labor certifies the LCA, the employer may petition the Immigration and Natu-ralization Service (INS) for permission to hire the H1B1 worker, showing that he will be hired in a specialty occupation for which he qualifies. After INS approval, the alien may obtain a visa. If the alien is already in the U.S. under another visa category, he can usually change to an H1B1 visa without leaving the U.S. There is an annual limit of 65,000 H1B1 visas per fiscal year (ending each September 30). Once the limit is reached, the INS will accept no more petitions until the next fiscal year. Last year the limit was reached late in the fiscal year; this year, it probably will be reached this summer, unless Congress raises the limit.

An H1B1 visa may be issued for an initial period of up to three years with extensions for up to an additional three years. After six years, the alien must reside outside of the U.S. for one year before reentering the U.S. in the H1B1 category. The employer may also sponsor the employee for permanent residence (a green card); and many H1B1 visa holders obtain U.S. permanent residency this way, though there is no certainty that this will happen and obtaining permanent residence status depends on the particular circumstances.

For more information on this article, contact Robert S. Downs at 410/752-9719.