U.S. immigration authorities say annual limit of 85,000 visas has already been exhausted.
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The U.S. is no longer accepting applications for H-1B visas for the government's current fiscal year, meaning that foreign tech workers will not be able submit applications for the temporary work permits until October of next year.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it had received enough applications to fill the 65,000 H-1B visa cap as of Nov. 22, two months earlier than last year. The agency said applications received after that date will be rejected.
USCIS said it's also received enough applications to fill the additional 20,000 H-1B visas that are available to foreign graduates who studied in advanced degree programs at U.S. universities. Current H-1B visa holders can still file to change the terms of their employment.
H-1B visas allow foreign workers, mostly in the tech industry, to work in the U.S. for three years. The visas can be renewed for one, additional three-year term.
That the H-1B cap was reached well ahead of last year's pace indicates that the program is not allowing skilled IT workers to move to the U.S. in sufficient numbers, according to proponents of a more open immigration system.
A recent study by The Partnership for a New American Economy, which is backed by a number of tech and business giants, including Microsoft, Boeing, and News Corp., found that 18% of the companies on the 2010 Fortune 500 list were founded by immigrants. "The findings are clear, immigrants drive our economy," said the group.
The study noted that eBay, Yahoo, Sun, and Qualcomm were all founded by immigrants.
Not everyone is in favor of looser immigration rules for tech workers. Groups that represent American IT workers, such as WashTec and Alliance At IBM, have noted that a number of tech companies, including Microsoft and IBM, have laid off thousands of U.S.-born employees in the past several years even as they have brought in H-1B workers from India, China, and other offshore locations.
Critics also point to a recent study by the General Accountability Office, which found that 54% of H-1B visa recipients were entry-level caliber workers, even though the program was designed for highly skilled professionals.
On Thursday, The Partnership for A New Economy and The American Enterprise Institute will hold a briefing in Washington, D.C., where they plan to argue for loosening the caps on the H-1B and other visa programs. U.S. Rep Tim Griffin (R-Ariz.) plans to speak at the event.
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