Scramble is on for coveted work visas

When Gaurav Patel was looking to hire an engineer for his medical device startup in Houston this year, he searched for an American citizen because the tiny company didn’t have the budget to sponsor a foreigner for a work visa.

But though he cast a wide net, 80 percent of the eligible pool turned out to be foreigners. The only American applicants had decades of experience, not a good fit for the entry-level position. So Patel hired a 24-year-old from Mumbai who had just graduated with a master’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he specialized in robotics.

Last week, like hundreds of companies across Houston and the United States, Patel’s firm entered the mad scramble for the nation’s work visa program, known as H-1B, to secure the new employee a way to work here legally. The government started accepting such applications on April 1, but in recent years has received so many within five business days of the deadline that by law it must turn to a random lottery.

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