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H1-B visa cap reached

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June 03, 2006 01:01 IST
The H1-B visa numbers did not last even two months before the cap was reached on May 26. US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced on June 1 that it has received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to meet the Congressionally mandated cap for Financial Year 2007,  which begins in October.

This means that people who want to file regular H1-B visas will have to wait until next April, unless Congress increases the numbers in the Immigration Bill, which is currently under its consideration.

However,  other avenues are still open, especially for those with higher degrees from US institutions. They can apply under the H-1B advance degree exemption, which was created under the H-1B Visa Reform Act of 2004. The Act made 20,000 additional H-1B numbers available to foreign workers with a minimum master's degree from a US institution.

Last year, due to a low demand in the first three months, the visa numbers lasted until September. For FY 2007, USCIS has received only 5,830 exempt petitions.

The H1-B visas given to the professionals have an annual cap of 65,000. Of this, 6,800 are set aside for nationals from Chile and Singapore. Only the remaining 58,200 are available for others. A statement from USCIS, however, states that it has 'added back to the H-1B cap 6,100 unused FY 2006 H-1B1 visas, for a total of 64,300'.

It means that Chile and Singapore used only few visas last year and the unused numbers are added to the general category.

The H-1B provision lets foreigners work in the United States for up to six years. The 65,000 cap does not apply to visa extension requests after three years.

Although not all H-1B visas go to technology workers, the program is especially dear to Silicon Valley, whose lobbyists helped convince Congress to increase the number of annual H-1B visas to 115,000 in 1999 and then to 195,000 through fiscal year 2003. After that, the cap became 65,000.

Last month the US Senate passed a bill that increased the numbers of the H1 visas. But it is still in Congress along with other contentious provisions of the Immigration Bill. The Congress may arrive at a consensus on the provisions by next week, it is expected.

The announcement of the USCIS has surprised many. On May 25, the USCIS said it got about 50,000 applications. That means the remaining 14,000 applications reached the office on May 26.

If the USCIS has got more applications on May 26 than the cap allow, they may return some of them. They will subject H-1B petitions received on the 'final receipt date' to a computer-generated random selection process to determine the valid ones.

George Joseph in New York