Senate Bill Seeks to Raise H-1B Visa Cap to 115,000

Would also affect green-card laws

A wide-ranging U.S. Senate immigration reform bill would increase the H-1B visa cap from 65,000 to 115,000 and ease the permanent residency process for some foreign nationals with advanced degrees.

The 300-page Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, now being debated by the Senate Judiciary Committee, affects many aspects of immigration policy and security in addition to changes in H-1B and green-card laws.

The bill could reach the full Senate for a vote by the end of the month.

If the measure fails, H-1B proponents will continue their efforts to increase the cap, likely by adding the proposal to another bill, said Sandra Boyd, chairwoman of Compete America, a Washington-based group of businesses, industry groups and universities supporting a visa cap increase.

The group also supports the bill's proposal to speed up the permanent residency, or green card, process for foreigners with advanced degrees. "We will continue to press on these issues," said Boyd.

Applications for H-1B visas for the 2007 federal fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, can be submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services starting April 1.

Last year, the immigration bureau cut off new applications in August after reaching the 65,000-visa limit for the 2006 fiscal year. That marked the earliest date the cap has been reached so far. Vic Goel, an immigration attorney based in Reston, Va., believes visas will disappear at a similar pace this year -- if not faster.

"People have been waiting for the filing date to reopen, so there is going to be some pent-up demand," he said.

The current cap of 65,000 doesn't include the 20,000 H-1B visas that were issued to advanced-degree holders. The Senate bill would provide for automatic increases in subsequent years once the proposed 115,000 H-1B cap is reached and would eliminate any visa cap for advanced-degree holders.

Any H-1B cap increase is opposed by IEEE-USA, which instead supports efforts to make it easier for foreign workers to gain permanent residency. One provision in the legislation is to create a student visa that can ease the process of gaining a green card.

Ralph Wyndrum, president of IEEE-USA, said his group opposes the H-1B visas because they can be abused by employers, who often treat visa holders like indentured servants. Such workers also risk losing their employers' support for permanent residency if they push for improvements, he said.

Raising the cap to 115,000 would make "a bad situation worse," Wyndrum said.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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