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Feds to release 20,000 H-1B visas next week

The extra visas were approved last fall by Congress

May 4, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Federal officials will open the doors to an additional 20,000 foreign workers under the H-1B visa program beginning May 12, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services department said today (download PDF).
USCIS also said that the visas would be granted only to foreign workers with at least a master's-level degree from a U.S. academic institution.
Congress approved the additional 20,000 visas last year after U.S. technology firms and academic groups complained that the reduced 65,000-worker cap was too low to meet demand. Opponents of the controversial visa cap, which had previously been set at 195,000, argue that the influx of skilled foreign workers is costing U.S. citizens and permanent residents jobs.
The 65,000 H-1B visas approved by Congress for the fiscal year that began last Oct. 1 were taken in a day.
The release of the 20,000 additional visas comes after a delay and some controversy. Last month, USCIS roiled backers of the cap increase when it said that the 20,000 additional visas would be available to all qualified applicants -- not just those holding an advanced degree from U.S. universities (see story).
Sandra Boyd, who heads Compete America, a Washington-based group representing more than 200 corporations and universities, said that change would be contrary to the intent of the H-1B Visa Reform Act of 2004. Evidently, USCIS agreed.
In an interview today, Boyd said the agency had made the "right interpretation" of the law with the regulations that will be published in the Federal Register on May 12. She also said the agency's apparent indecision over how to handle the visa allocation created much uncertainty for U.S. employers, as well as for prospective visa-holding employees.
"There was a lot of confusion about whether people would be offered jobs," said Boyd. "It made it impossible to plan, and it all seemed pretty unnecessary."
Tech industry groups had asked Congress last fall to approve more than 20,000 additional visas. If the visas being released next week are quickly claimed -- as some immigration attorneys have been predicting -- tech groups are likely to cite that as a reason to raise the visa cap further.
Last week, H-1B visa supporters got some help from Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, who said that preventing "smart people" from entering the country by placing a cap on H-1B visas "doesn't make sense." (see story)
But in an interview with Computerworld this week (see story), Gerald Cohen, founder and CEO of New York-based Information Builders Inc., said Gates is "full of it. He's going there [to China and India] because it's just cheaper."

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