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Cap On H-1B Visas Quota Reached On First Day They're Available

On Oct. 1, the first day of the U.S. government's fiscal 2005 year, the Citizenship and Immigration Services already received enough visa petitions to hit the annual 65,000 cap on H-1B allotments.

Companies hoping to beef up their IT talent by hiring new foreign workers with H-1B visas will have to wait another year. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Oct. 1--the first day of the U.S. government's fiscal 2005 year--already received enough visa petitions to hit the annual 65,000 cap on H-1b allotments.

During the height of the IT boom, Congress increased the number of H-1B visas that could be issued to 195,000 annually in fiscal 2001 through fiscal 2003. However, in fiscal 2004, that cap fell back to the pre-boom level of 65,000, where it remains today. In that fiscal year, the available 65,000 visas for fiscal 2004 were claimed in February 2004, not quite halfway through the fiscal year.

Some lobby groups and companies are urging Congress to raise the ceiling again. For example, a group called Compete America is trying to get non-U.S. students who earned doctorates and master's degrees from U.S. universities exempted from the cap. Texas Instruments, a backer of Compete America, uses H-1Bs almost exclusively to hire workers with doctorates and master's degrees in electronic engineering, says Paula Collins, TI director of government relations. At some schools where TI recruits, she says, all such candidates are non-U.S. citizens.

Applications for H-1B visas can be filed six months prior to when companies need a worker. So, companies' first chance to file for the Oct. 1 start to the 2005 fiscal year allotment was April. By Oct. 1, "we had already received enough [requests] to fill the 65,000" limit for fiscal 2005, says a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which accepts the applications. Now companies must wait until April 2005 to submit petitions for H-1B visas for fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1, 2005.

The cap on H-1B visas is for new employment in the U.S. only. Extensions to previously granted H-1B visas can still be granted.

Tech workers aren't the only ones who fall under H-1B status--those visas are also issued to professionals with advanced degrees in health care, education, accounting, and architecture. But in fiscal 2002, the most recent year for which figures are available, technology companies received the largest portion of H-1B visas granted compared with employers in other industries, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman says.

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