US agency broadens H-1B visa applicant pool

Von Patrick Thibodeau

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services this week said the additional 20,000 H-1B visas to be issued this spring will be available to all qualified applicants -- not just those holding an advanced degree from U.S. universities.

The agency announced the apparent change on Tuesday, the same day the visas were scheduled to be available. It prompted criticism from the group that had pushed for the visa increase last fall.

Sandra Boyd, who heads Compete America, a Washington-based group representing more than 200 corporations and universities, said the statement is "directly contrary" to what Congress approved in the H-1B Visa Reform Act of 2004. "It makes no sense," she said. Boyd is also a vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers.

Compete America members want the visas restricted to foreign nationals with advanced degrees to keep the best-trained people in the U.S., said Boyd.

In its statement, U.S. immigration officials, who were not available for comment late today, said the agency would begin accepting applications as soon as the regulations are published in the Federal Register. It did not provide a date for that but said employers should monitor the register.

The push for the additional 20,000 visas came after the cap for H-1B visas was reduced to 65,000.

According to federal officials, "The available petitions for FY 2005 will be applied to all qualified H-1B nonimmigrant aliens, and will not be limited to those individuals holding a master"s degree or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher learning."