H-1B visa cap reached in record time

Von Patrick Thibodeau

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service said Friday that it has reached the 65,000 H-1B cap for the 2006 fiscal year, which means that employers who need H-1B visas may have to wait more than a year before they can receive additional visas under the program. This is the earliest the H-1B visa program has met the cap prior to the start of the fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, according to Christopher S. Bentley, a spokesman for the federal immigration service.

The U.S. set a cut-off date of Aug. 10, and federal officials will use a computer to randomly select the applications that arrived on that day until the cap allotment is met, said Bentley.

Employers are not completely out of options, however. Congress increased the cap by 20,000 late last year but limited those visas to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees. As of early this month, 10,379 of those visas had been applied for under that program, said Bentley.

Vic Goel, an immigration attorney in Greenbelt, Md., said the cap"s quick exhaustion is a sign that the economy is doing well. "Obviously, this should be taken as a sign that we don"t have enough visas," he said.

Goel said it also means that employers will be shut out from getting additional visas for the next 14 months -- until the start of the 2007 federal fiscal year.

Until two years ago, the H-1B visa cap had been set at 195,000. Opponents argue that the H-1B visas are used to facilitate the offshoring of IT jobs, as well as to hold down tech wages in the U.S. Businesses have argued that because so many U.S. graduates are foreigners, the visas are needed to hire workers with the right skills.

The 65,000 cap is actually 58,200 because 6,800 of the total number of visas available have been set aside for workers of Singapore and Chile under trade agreements.