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85,000 skilled worker visas snatched by US companies, including LI firms

Dr. Yacov Shamash, vice president for Economic Development

Dr. Yacov Shamash, vice president for Economic Development and dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University, at a news conference at the Long Island High Technology Incubator at Stony Brook University on July 6, 2012. Credit: Daniel Brennan

U.S. businesses competing for skilled foreign workers snatched all 85,000 visas available for next year in under a week, federal officials said Monday, and executives on Long Island forecast a continued shortage of top tech talent.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had been accepting applications since April 1 for the 2015 fiscal year quota of H-1B visas used by foreign engineers, computer programmers and other skilled workers. Many companies won't get as many visas as they want.

Anil Kapoor, president and chief executive of SVAM International Inc., of Great Neck, said he expects to get 25-30 percent of the 49 H-1B visas he sought. "If I could find the right people, I'd bring them on board in a heartbeat," he said.

The 20-year-old IT services company employs 475 people around the world, including about 70 on Long Island.

Kapoor said that when he is unable to fill skilled positions with local candidates, he has limited options: losing work to competitors, sending the work offshore, or retaining foreign talent in the United States through the H-1B.

"Some people may not like hearing the fact of offshore [hiring], but it's a necessary evil," he said. "Had I not leaned on offshoring, I would have ceased to exist."

U.S. business interests, particularly high-tech firms, have pushed to increase the number of H-1B visas. Kapoor said the lion's share goes to giant companies like IBM, Oracle and Microsoft.

Rep. Steve Israel called for an increase in visas as part of broader immigration reform legislation. It's "critical . . . for the House to pass comprehensive immigration reform so we can increase the number of these types of visas available," the Huntington Democrat said.

Foreigners can apply for an H-1B visa if they have a bachelor's or advanced degree and a U.S. employer willing to pay the prevailing wage.

Ronkonkoma immigration lawyer Mitchell Zwaik, whose firm helped clients apply for 14 H-1B visas in the latest round, estimated that the U.S. received 200,000 to 250,000 applications since April 1 before choosing 85,000 in a random computer lottery.

Zwaik said many of the Long Island applicants for H-1B visas are graduates of Stony Brook University and other schools in the region.

"They come to study and get bachelor's or master's degrees and then they want to stay in the United States," he said.Yacov Shamash, dean of the College of Engineering & Applied Sciences at Stony Brook, said that demand from foreign and U.S. students for the roughly 500 slots for freshmen has nearly doubled to 7,225 in the last four years.

Shamash said the visa shortage forces talented engineers to return to their home countries.

"That's unfortunate, because we've invested in them," he said. "These tend to be the best of the best in the world."

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