WASHINGTON The government said Wednesday (Jan. 18) that the annual exemption cap on H-1B visas was reached four months into the current fiscal year.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service said it has received enough applications qualifying for an exemption from H-1B visa caps to exhaust its limit of 20,000 a year. The exemption cap is designed for foreign students with graduate degrees earned in the U.S.
The agency, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said it will designate Jan. 17, 2006, as the cut-off date for cap-exempt H-1B petitions.
The overall H-1B cap of 65,000 visas for fiscal 2006 was reached in August, two months prior to the start of the current fiscal year.
Pro-immigration groups decried the situation.
"Congress exempted the 20,000 advanced degree visas from the overall 65,000 H-1B visa cap in recognition that it is counterproductive to educate foreign students and send them home to compete against us," Sandra Boyd, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers and chairwoman of the lobbying group Compete America. "Now that the advanced degree visa cap has been met as well, U.S. employers will have no means to hire the world’s brightest minds until the new fiscal year begins, more than eight months from now."
The group is pressuring Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration legislation that would raise H-1B visa caps.
Engineering and other professional groups argue that U.S. companies are using the high-tech visa program to hire cheap, foreign workers.