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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