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Employers race to snap up foreign work visas

Want a sign that business is hiring? For the first time since 2008, federal officials expect the 85,000 visas for foreign skilled workers will be snapped up in just a few days -- many for science and engineering jobs.

Want a sign that business is hiring? For the first time since 2008, federal officials expect the 85,000 visas for foreign skilled workers will be snapped up in just a few days. The run on visas has reignited the debate over the number of available slots and whether businesses are treating their foreign workers fairly.

For some, demand for these visas is a very nice sign.

"This is encouraging for the economy. It’s also encouraging for young workers," says Tom Kochan, a management professor at MIT. 

According to Kochan, recruiters have come back to campus, on the lookout for students studying science, technology, engineering and math.

A recent paper from the Brookings Institution found that those industries -- nicknamed STEM -- make up about two thirds of all H-1B visa applications. Brookings' Neil Ruiz says the visa cap can be a real problem.

"[In the] heartland, there's a huge demand for STEM workers in particular. And they really can’t find local workers to fill those job needs," he says. 

MIT’s Tom Kochan understands some businesses truly can’t find who they’re looking for. But he also points out that a number of employers wind up paying foreign workers below what the company pays U.S. workers.

"I worry that it’s a cheap alternative, sometimes a revolving door where companies hire temporary workers at a lower wage," says Kochan, who adds that as Congress tackles immigration reform, lawmakers will take a close look at how to improve the foreign visa program.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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