RealTime IT News

Poof! H1-B Visas Gone

There they go. Again.

The allotment of 65,000 H1-B visas for 2007 is already gone, according to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS).

The visas -- highly favored by the technology industry -- are for foreign nationals with advanced degrees in science, engineering and technology to work in the United States for up to six years.

Tech claims there are not enough qualified Americans to fill all the available jobs and H1-B visas help bridge that gap. Critics such as the Programmers Guild and labor unions claim U.S. tech firms use the visas to hire foreign talent at lower wages than U.S. IT workers.

The announcement by the CIS represents the third consecutive year and the eighth time in the last ten years the allotment of H-1B visas has been used up before a federal fiscal year begins.

"Hitting the H-1B cap four months before the start of the fiscal year is a clear sign that the visa process for highly educated workers is broken, and must be reformed this year," Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the American Council on International Personnel, said in a statement.

In late May, the U.S. Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill that included in its 600 pages a provision to raise the current 65,000 annual cap on H1-B visas to 115,000.

The bill also provides that immigrants with certain advanced degrees would be exempt from the H1-B visa cap. That quota could rise by as much as 20 percent per year depending on labor market demands.

The U.S. House version of immigration, however, includes no provision for raising the H1-B visa limits.

Those differences, however, are small compared to the bitter fighting over amnesty for illegal workers, guest worker visas, funding for border patrol officials and a proposed 370-mile, triple-layered fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The political infighting will be resolved behind closed doors in conference committees to thrash out the differences.

"Access to the world's best talent and skills in an increasingly competitive global economy is a no-brainer," said Jeff Lande, senior vice president of the Information Technology Association of America, in a statement.

Landes added, "Congress needs to move quickly to pass legislation that raises the cap substantially and adds a mechanism that avoids these unfortunate shortfalls by allowing the number of annual visas granted to increase based on market demand."

In the 1990s, the H1-B visa cap was as high as 195,000, but after the terrorist attacks of 2001, Congress began slashing the number over national security concerns and from pressure from trade protectionists who think the jobs should go to Americans.

Last year, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates urged Congress to do away entirely with the H1-B visa caps.

"The whole idea of the H1B thing is don't let too many smart people come into the country. Basically, it doesn't make sense," Gates said.