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San Diego Tech Companies Seek Visas For Skilled Foreign Workers

Hundreds of tech companies in San Diego hire skilled foreign workers from abroad. But a cap on visas mean businesses can't attract as much foreign talent as they would like.

San Diego tech companies seeking to hire skilled foreign workers are scrambling to apply for H1B visas this week. Lawyers say the limited number of visas available means local businesses can't attract as much foreign talent as they would like.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services started accepting applications for H1B visas on Wednesday. It provides 65,000 H1B visas for foreign workers with skills in math, science and similar specialty fields, plus an additional 20,000 for those with a U.S. master's degree.

Hundreds of tech companies in San Diego, including Qualcomm, hire skilled foreign workers from abroad. San Diego immigration lawyer Nikki Weil estimated that less than half of all applications will be reviewed. A lottery system will determine which applications will be considered.

If San Diego companies don't apply for H1B visas now, they will have to wait until next year to hire skilled foreign workers.

"Basically, the employers are stuck. They can't grow because they can't continuously hire foreign workers during the year," Weil said.

She said that applications for H1B visas are expected to increase this year from last year because the economy is growing.

“It tends to go with the economy," Weil said. "A few years ago, when the economy was slower, the H1B cap wasn’t met within the first five days – it took a few months. But as the economy has been improving, there’s been more and more applications every year.”

In 2014, San Diego County businesses filed about 4,800 H1B visas, according to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, based on Department of Labor statistics.

More than 700 unique firms filed applications, with close to 2,000 of the total coming from Qualcomm companies.

Other San Diego County businesses that filed applications include California Creative Solutions, Digitaria Interactive, Entropic Communications and more.

Mark Cafferty, CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, said the cap on H1B visas hurts the capacity of local companies to innovate in fields like telecommunications and biotechnology.

“If you don’t get the individuals you’re looking for within the stated deadlines and timelines, you have a long time to wait before you can go back out and try to attract some of that talent again,” he said.

Cafferty added that the H1B visa cap has been the primary immigration issue of interest among science and technology companies in San Diego for years.

If San Diego companies could hire skilled local workers instead of skilled foreign workers, they would, he said. It would be cheaper. But he said not enough local talent exists.

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