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Michigan business leaders call for reform as H-1B applications reach cap

Apr 9, 2015

Llamasoft CEO Don Hicks stands with several employees who are pursuing H-1B visas.
Credit Rebecca Kruth

The federal government this week closed its annual application period for H-1B visas after applications exceeded the annual cap of 65,000.

Some Michigan business leaders are calling for the government to raise the cap, which they say hurts the state’s economic growth.

Don Hicks is CEO of Llamasoft, an Ann Arbor-based software company.

This year, four of his employees are waiting to see if they’re randomly chosen in the lottery system the government uses when the application cap is reached.

The odds aren’t good. Last year, the government received more than 170,000 applications, and it’s likely this year’s numbers will surpass that.

“We went through all the trouble to recruit them, to get them here,” Hicks said. “Now we’re sitting around waiting to see if the government is going to force me to deport some of them.”

Hicks said in order to remain competitive, the company must actively recruit the world’s most talented STEM workers.

“We look for the best people, the people who are capable of doing the job,” he said. “Many of [those people] have passports from other countries.”

Steve Tobocman, director of Global Detroit, said Michigan is facing a talent deficit when it comes to STEM workers.

“[Those shortages] are only going to grow over the coming five years, yet between 40 and 60 percent of all the advanced degrees in STEM from Michigan colleges and universities are going to immigrant and international students,” Tobocman said.

In 2013, Detroit ranked 8th in the nation for approved H-1B applications with over 7,000 approvals.

Ann Arbor and Detroit both ranked in the country’s top 10 for H-1B approvals to employment ratios.