Explained: The H1B visa cap, and why B-school academics want reforms

The Bill is now with the Senate, where it has been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported about an open letter addressed to President Donald Trump by top executives and academics at elite business schools in the US, who are seeking an urgent reform of the country’s visa policy. The letter expresses alarm over the decrease in the number of foreign students going to US universities, and advocates the removal of “per-country” visa caps along with a reform of the H-1B visa programme.

Per-country caps

In July this year, a new law was proposed in the US Congress seeking to end per-country caps on green card applications, possibly giving immigrants from countries like India and China hope for a fairer system with smaller processing times.

With a solid majority, the House of Representatives had then passed the bill titled ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019’ or ‘HR 1044’ that would strike down the 7 per cent per-country cap on green card applications that is in force in the country currently.

The Bill is now with the Senate, where it has been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

The suggested reforms

Fifty deans and 13 CEOs of business schools at elite universities such as Yale, Stanford, Columbia, and Duke have authored the letter that pushes for a re-examination of current US visa and immigration policies. The letter has been posted on the website of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), an international non-profit body.

It says, “... a combination of our outdated laws, artificial regional and skills-based caps on immigration, and recent spikes in hostility are closing the door to the high-skilled immigrants our economy needs to thrive.”

The letter calls the recent fall in foreign students seeking admission to US universities a “dangerous negative trend”. It says, “For the first time since we started keeping track of these data, the past three years have seen a reduction in the number of foreign students studying in America’s universities and business schools. Every year, we turn away hundreds of thousands of high-skilled immigrants for no other reason than that they failed to win the H-1B lottery.”

Besides calling for an urgent reform of the H-1B visa programme, and removal of per-country visa caps, the letter has also suggested introducing a “heartland” visa that “encourages immigration to the regions of the United States that could most use the vitality of these talented individuals”. It says, “We do not believe the US has the high-skill talent it needs, nor does it have the capacity to train enough people with those skills. Without a substantial change in our approach, this deficit of skills in key fields will hinder economic growth.”