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Congress ups H-1B visa cap by 20,000

The visas are limited to specially qualified students

November 22, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- Responding to pressure from high-tech businesses and industry groups, Congress this weekend approved an increase in the number of H-1B visas by 20,000 but limited it to specially qualified students. The legislation, included in the omnibus budget bill, allows foreign national master's and Ph.D. graduates of U.S. universities to apply for an H-1B visa, according to people familiar with the bill.
Businesses such as Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. and high-tech trade groups have been urging Congress to take action, while organizations representing IT workers wanted Congress to keep this year's cap at 65,000.
That cap was reached at the start of the fiscal year in October -- the first time that the visas had been issued so quickly. It meant that no new visas would be issued for the remainder of the 2005 fiscal year.
Groups representing professionals who work in high-tech fields, such as the National Society of Professional Engineers in Alexandria, Va., opposed any increase in the cap. Al Gray, the group's executive director, said the 65,000 cap is as high as it should be, and indications are that there "are no really serious shortages" of engineering and high-tech jobs.
He said H-1B workers are competing for U.S. jobs, "and that's the concern."
High-tech trade groups welcomed the increase but said it does not go high enough. "Our number is closer to 50,000" H-1B visas needed, said John Palafoutas, a senior vice president at the AEA, a technology trade association in Washington. "This problem is not going to go away, given that some of our foreign competitors are producing more highly trained math and science post graduates than we are," said Palafoutas.
Jeff Lande, senior vice president at the Arlington, Va.-based Information Technology Association of America, said the increase is "not going to solve the need, but it will alleviate a little bit of the pressure."
Another organization critical of the H-1B program is the IEEE-USA, a unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. That group said that since the H-1B was lowered, the number of unemployed high-tech professionals has also declined.
The IEEE-USA, which compared U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in the third quarter of 2004 against the first quarter of this year, said the number of unemployed IT professionals has fallen by 92,000. The largest drop was for computer programmers, which declined from 62,000 unemployed in the first quarter to 25,000 in the third quarter, a drop of 37,000. The number of unemployed computer scientists and systems analysts, pegged at 48,000 in the first quarter, dropped to 17,000



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