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H-1B Visa Supply Nearly Exhausted For 2013

Work visas last year did not run out until late November,
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In a development that's likely to add fuel to calls for an expansion of the H-1B visa program, U.S. government officials said this week that the supply of the work permits is nearly exhausted for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

As of June 1, the government had issued 55,600 standard H-1B visas out of the annual allotment of 65,000, according to United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS). The feds also issued 18,700 H-1B visas reserved for graduates of advanced degree programs in the U.S., out of 20,000.

USCIS began accepting the applications on April 1.

Ted Ruthizer, an attorney who co-chairs the business immigration group at Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel in New York, said that last year the supply of H-1B visas was not used up until late November. "One could say this is a harbinger of better economic times," said Ruthizer.

"Companies downsized in the wake of the recession; now they're coming back to where they were or are even ahead--particularly in the IT area but not exclusively," said Ruthizer.

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Ruthizer said rising demand for H-1B visas is making it difficult for U.S. companies to import workers with specialized skills in areas such as technology and finance. The number of available H-1B visas "is artificially low," said Ruthizer. "It's a number that was pulled out of a hat in the 1990s. It’s way out of whack with the size of the economy now."

Executives at a number of major tech companies, including Microsoft, Freescale Semiconductor, and Autodesk, recently have called for Congress to increase the number of H-1B visas made available each year.

Industry lobby group Partnership for A New American Economy last month released a study that claims the U.S. will face a shortage of 224,000 tech workers by 2018 unless immigration rules are loosened.

But the issue is contentious. Critics of the H-1B program, such as Rochester Institute of Technology public policy professor Ron Hira, have said that unemployment remains high in the tech industry and more visas are not needed.

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