The number of foreign nationals entering the United States last year on H-1B visas totaled 386,821, an increase of 26,325, or 2.3%, from 2003, the Department of Homeland Security reported Monday. About 65,000 foreign workers are first-time H-1B visa holders.
In a report on temporary admissions of nonimmigrants to the United States, Homeland Security's Office of Information Statistics didn't break down how many of those visa holders work in IT, but in recent years, the government has issued more than one-third of the H-1B visas to those with computer-related skills.
Congress placed a cap of 65,000 new H-1B visas annually, but will issue another 20,000 to qualified foreign nationals who received graduate degrees from American institutions, in effect raising the cap to 85,000 annually. The 20,000 exemption is new, and Homeland Security began accepting applications for those extra visas last week.
For the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, the government received more than 100,000 petitions for first-time H-1Bs. The visas are good for three years and can be renewed for an additional three years. There's no limit on how many renewed H-1B petitions can be granted. In addition, no limit exists for H-1B visas issued for employment at colleges, not-for-profit organizations, and government research groups. Some visa holders eventually qualify for permanent residency and citizenship, and those workers aren't reflected in the H-1B numbers issued Monday.
Employers seek the visas for specific highly skilled individuals. Backers of the H-1B program contend that a skills shortage, especially in IT, requires the hiring of foreigners. Critics maintain that there are sufficient IT workers in the United States, and employers hire foreigners to reduce labor costs.
Last year was the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that there has been an increase in total nonimmigrant admissions to the United States. In 2004, 30.78 million nonimmigrant foreigners entered the United States, up nearly 11%. Still, nonimmigrant admissions last year were 9.4% lower than in 2000, the year before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.