US Caps Extra H1-B Visas at 30K a Year
Decision is hailed by some, slammed by others
WASHINGTON, DC - 10/31/05 - In a compromise move following intense lobbying by several labor groups, the US Senate Judiciary Committee has approved 30,000 additional H-1B visas a year to foreign professionals instead of the originally proposed 60,000.
The committee approved legislation that would expand the cap on H-1B skilled-worker visas from 65,000 to 95,000 in the US government's 2006 fiscal year.
The legislation, supported by several IT vendors, expands the H-1B cap by "recapturing" unused visas from past years going back to the early 1990s.
The extra visas would be available in years when the H-1B cap has been reached, as it has for fiscal year 2006.
Congress allowed 195,000 H-1B visas in the government's fiscal year 2003, but then let the cap fall back to its pre-dot-com boom level of 65,000.
Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) had originally pushed for 60,000 additional H-1B visas a year, but Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) pushed for a smaller increase.
Feinstein was concerned about the effect on US jobs, as 27% of H1-B visas fill high-tech and computer-related jobs, she said.
"What I don't want to see is Americans lose jobs to foreign workers or Americans not have opportunity for these jobs," Feinstein said in a statement after the vote. "I think there needs to be further study of whether there is in fact a shortage of American workers to fill these jobs."
The Judiciary Committee legislation, which would have to be approved by the full Senate as well as the House of Representatives, also includes a $500.00 increase in the H-1B application cost. The current cost is $3,185.00.
Feinstein's amendment also increased the application fees for L-1 visas, which US-based companies use to hire foreign workers for management and executive positions. The amendment increases the L-1 visa fee $750.00 to $1,435.00.
Software giant Microsoft and the Software & Information Industry Association hailed the ruling.
The decision "will give US business more ability to compete, succeed, remain competitive and provide new revenue for training US workers and for deficit reduction," said Microsoft's managing director Jack Krumholtz.
Two other national industry organizations - the Information Technology Association of America and the Information Technology Industry Council - had pushed for more H-1B visas, saying US companies need to be able to recruit workers from around the world to compete in a global economy.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA (IEEE-USA) - which represents US information technology workers - had opposed an increase in the H-1B cap, saying it would have preferred no increase, but "30,000 is better than 60,000," according to Chris McManes, a spokesman for the Washington, DC-headquartered industry group.
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