US Reaches 2009 H-1B Visa Cap

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reached the cap on H-1B immigrant worker visas for the 2009 fiscal year, just a week after the agency opened the application period.

USCIS announced Tuesday that it reached the H-1B cap for the government's 2009 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The agency received 65,000 applications for the regular H-1B program, meeting the cap, and it received more than 20,000 applications from foreign students receiving advanced degrees in the U.S. In addition to the regular H-1B visas, the government issues an additional 20,000 visas to students with advanced degrees.

Several large tech companies, including Microsoft, have called for an increase in the H-1B cap because it has been filled within days of applications opening up in recent years. The H-1B program is designed to help U.S. companies find workers for hard-to-fill positions, but critics have said the program is widely abused, particularly by outsourcing providers.

As in past years when the cap has been filled, USCIS will use a computer-generated random selection process to assign visas to applicants, the agency said. USCIS will refund filing fees to applicants not selected, unless they are found to have a duplicate application, the agency said. On March 24, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security banned duplicate filings and said it would reject all applications by an employer that files them.

This is the fifth consecutive year that the H-1B cap has been filled before the fiscal year begins, said Compete America, a coalition of companies, educators, research institutions and trade associations focused on increasing the U.S. supply of highly skilled workers.

"U.S. employers deserve better than a random lottery to determine if they can hire the highly educated candidates they need," Robert Hoffman, vice president for government and public affairs at Oracle and cochairman of Compete America, said in a statement. "Congress has failed to address the problem as U.S. universities graduate highly educated individuals who leave to work in competitor nations. This madness must end this year."

Last week, the DHS extended the time that graduating foreign students in the science and technology fields could stay in the U.S. from 12 months to 29 months, under a program called Optional Practical Training. Compete America praised that decision, but said the U.S. needs "permanent" immigration reform.

But many U.S. tech companies have laid off workers in recent years as they call for a higher H-1B visa cap, and most of the top firms hiring H-1B workers in the U.S. are offshore outsourcing vendors, said Ron Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and former chairman of the Career and Workforce Policy Committee at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA.

"These firms hire almost no Americans, and their entire business model rests on shifting as many American jobs overseas as fast as possible," Hira said recently.

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