As of last week, there have only been 13,500 requests for H-1B visas since the federal government opened up the application process on April 1. The visas, which are issued to high-skilled workers in fields that experience a worker shortage, are capped at 65,000 per year and are usually completely grabbed up in the first few weeks.

Last April, during the height of the job losses, there were 42,000 requests in April for H-1B visas. The drop-off in visa applications can be for two reasons: 1) there is a pool of unemployed/underemployed Americans available to take open positions and 2) companies don't anticipate creating new jobs, so they don't need to apply for visas for new workers.

Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology, said last year's higher numbers were probably a result of past years' demand. Because of the cap, companies often can't get the number of foreign workers they want on an annual basis, so they reapply the following year.

American companies are supposed to prove that they can't find an American worker to fill high-skilled jobs before applying for H-1B visas. It's a rule that's often abused, and one that Hira believes should be more strongly enforced. He also believes that H-1B workers should be paid more than U.S. workers.

“They should pay a premium," said Hira in a Boston Globe article. "[Foreign workers] are supposedly the best and the brightest."

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Updated: Mon, Apr 19th 2010 @ 4:58pm EDT