H-1B petitions fall short of cap

For the first time in three years, the Homeland Security Department still has slots available for foreign skilled workers under its H-1B visa program more than a week after it began accepting petitions on April 1. In 2007 and 2008, the number of H-1B visa requests exceeded capped limits within days.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received 42,000 applications for the 65,000 H-1B visas subject to the cap as of April 9, which is the latest count available, Sharon Scheidhauer, an agency spokeswoman said today.

An additional 20,000 petitions from foreign workers with advanced U.S. degrees have been received for 20,000 additional H-1B visas exempted from the capped limits set by Congress, she said. The agency continues to accept applications in that category as well.

In previous years, demand has far outstripped supply for the popular H-1B visas, and federal IT contractors including Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates have lobbied Congress to increase the cap.

But observers had predicted fewer applications this year due to the economic downturn.

Federal information technology contractors and other employers must apply for the visas on behalf of foreign workers, but hiring in general has slowed down substantially during the recession.

Applications for the H-1B visas become available each year on April 1.

Last year, 163,000 H-1B applications were received by April 5, quickly exceeding the 65,000 cap set by Congress. A lottery was held to distribute the visas.

USCIS announced on April 3, 2007, that it had received enough H-1B petitions to meet the congressionally-mandated cap. Approximately 119,000 petitions had been filed on April 1 and 2.

Congress added new restrictions to the visas for two years in the legislation that created the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The new law prohibits employers who get TARP funding from displacing U.S. workers with H-1B visa holders.