Ansoft Corp. hired a foreign national last year to work in the United States, a highly skilled software professional who was living and working in the States under a practical training visa. The presumption was that the company would be able to secure an H1B visa that would take effect before the training visa expired. So far, so good.
Unfortunately, the annual allotment of 65,000 H1B visas had been exhausted in May, with none available until the beginning of the federal governments fiscal year in October. Ellen Allston, personnel manager for the software company, had to call the new recruit to inform him Ansoft had not been successful in securing a visa for him. The new hire, who had quit his job and put his possessions in storage, would have to leave the country.
Ansoft put the new employee to work in its United Kingdom office, but the snafu posed complications. The employee wasnt able to become oriented to the company culture in quite the way Ansoft planned, and the position he was intended for went unfilled.
That case highlights only part of the problem for Ansoft and others. During that period, because of uncertainty over availability of visas, the company didnt process any new applications.
From May until September 30, it was very painful, says Allston. The company suspended its recruiting and didnt pursue any new H1B visa applications at a time when students were finishing their degrees.
Ansoft isnt a huge employer of foreign nationalsabout 15 of its 205 employees hold H1B visasbut those who do hold key positions.
These visas are absolutely critical to high-tech firms that rely on computer professionals, says Larry Liebowitz, a Cohen & Grigsby attorney who represents Ansoft and other high-tech companies seeking H1B and other visas.
High-tech companies such as Ansoft have been granted some relief for the next three years by legislation passed in September, with additional visas granted in 2000 and 2001. But the number will drop to 65,000 again, starting in 2002.
Companies applying for H1Bs now have to pay an additional $500 surcharge, earmarked for funding educational programs to prepare more U.S. citizens for high-tech careers, in addition to the normal filing fee. That sum, in addition to the $750 to $1,000 in legal costs companies have to bearconsiderably more in other large citiesmakes hiring foreign nationals an even more expensive proposition.