Immigration Service Nears H-1B Visa Cap

FRAMINGHAM (03/02/2000) - The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) reported that almost half of the allotted H-1B visas available for fiscal year 2000 have been issued - with tens of thousands of visa petitions still pending.

However, a proposed immigration bill, introduced yesterday, may add 45,000 H-1B visas to the 115,000 quota in fiscal year 2000, which ends in September.

As of February 15, the INS had approved roughly 67,000 H-1B petitions and is reviewing an additional 44,000 applications. Some of the 44,000 cases may not count toward this year's visa cap, if, for instance, several companies file petitions for the same individual or if they are denied, said INS spokeswoman Eyleen Schmidt.

Although she didn't have any estimates as to when the agency would reach the H-1B cap, Schmidt said the agency is "getting close" to reaching the limit. The INS is reviewing petitions that were received between the last week of December and first week of January.

Yesterday, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House immigration subcommittee, proposed raising the visa cap by 45,000 for this year.

But MaryLu Cianciolo, an immigration attorney in Chicago, said that even if the visa cap is raised, most petitions that have been or about to be filed probably wouldn't make this year's quota. "If you're sending (the petition) in this week, you have a shot at" getting your worker's visa approved, she said.

Although he said he thought the proposed increase was "not high enough," Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va., said he was pleased to see Smith's turnaround, since the legislator had opposed raising the visa cap in the past. "At least now we're on the same playing field, instead of debating the outcome of the game," said Miller.

Three weeks ago, a Senate bill proposed raising the H-1B visa cap from 115,000 to 195,000 through 2002.

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