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Appetite For H-1B Visas Far From Slaked

Requests for about 46,000 foreign-worker visas have already been filed. No more than 65,000 requests will be granted.
Fiscal year 2005 hasn't even begun and already businesses have petitioned for 70% of the year's H-1B visa allotment. As of Aug. 18, 45,900 petitions for H-1B visas had been made, according to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.

No more than 65,000 of the controversial work permits for foreign nationals will be granted in fiscal 2005, which begins Oct. 1. The 65,000 visas available for this fiscal year were all claimed by February.

Congress established H-1B visas in 1990; the program lets employers hire highly skilled temporary workers from other nations if they can prove that equally skilled U.S. workers can't be found. H-1B workers are approved initially for three years and can qualify for an additional three years. Computer professionals represent a large number of H-1B visa holders; other professions admitted through the program include architects, engineers, accountants, physicians, and professors.

In 2003, the government issued about 78,000 H-1B visas, considerably less than the ceiling of 195,000 visas at that time. The ceiling was even higher around the turn of the century, when the dot-com boom was resounding and employers seemingly couldn't hire enough people.

Working and unemployed computer professionals accuse employers of laying off skilled, high-paid workers with one hand and pleading for lower-wage H-1B visa workers with the other.

Congressionally mandated H-1B visa caps are for initial employment situations. Not covered by the cap are previously approved visas that are extended or modified. Nor are foreign workers employed by exempt organizations, such as colleges and nonprofit research organizations.