Silicon Valley has plenty of jobs, just not enough people to fill them. Recruiters spend a lot of time luring gainfully employed software engineers away from competitor companies—a tough task when they’re already accustomed to high salaries and perks that range from unlimited vacation to twice-monthly maid service.
To solve this, tech companies are also aggressively recruiting new graduates and foreigners. But the latter path is particularly tricky under current US immigration laws. Organizations like fwd.us, the immigration reform lobby set up by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and others, are pressing the government to raise its existing cap on H1-B visas—the ones designated for highly skilled workers and those who have obtained a master’s degree or higher in the US.
The chart below shows the growing demand for H1-B visas. For fiscal year 2016, 233,000 petitions were filed in the first five days for the 85,000 available visas, 35% more than in the same period the year before and a 2,100% jump from 2012. That’s more than before the financial crisis. Based on these numbers, it’s clear that Silicon Valley’s hiring crunch isn’t letting up anytime soon.
Yet the visa quota hasn’t kept pace with demand. The government has limited the number of H1-B visas to 65,000 since 2004, and allocated 20,000 more for non-Americans with advanced degrees in 2005. Minus the education exemption, that’s the same number of H1-B visas as were available from 1992 to 1998, according to official data. From 1999 to 2003—in other words, around the time of the last dotcom bubble—the visa quota ranged from 115,000 to 195,000. Today activity in tech is back to those dotcom highs, but the number of visas isn’t.