H-1B visa awards drop in 2002

The US issued 79,100 H-1B visas last fiscal year, a sharp decline from the previous year and far short of the 195,000 cap or limit set by Congress, likely reflecting the state of the economy, Computerworld US has learned.

          The US issued 79,100 H-1B visas last fiscal year, a sharp decline from the previous year and far short of the 195,000 cap or limit set by Congress, likely reflecting the state of the economy, Computerworld US has learned.

          By contrast, in the 2001 fiscal year, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service issued 163,600 visas.

          There were 18,000 pending H-1B applications in the fiscal year that ended on September 30, which will count against this fiscal year, an INS official says.

          The H-1B visa is used to bring skilled workers into the US, many of whom are IT workers. The visa is good for up to six years, although it has to be renewed after thee years.

          Not counted against the cap are extensions of the visa and visas issued that are exempt from the cap, including those for people employed by educational and nonprofit research institutions. Those numbers also fell.

          In the 2002 fiscal year, the INS issued 215,000 extensions or initial visas to people working for exempt organisations. It does not provide a breakdown between extensions and initial visas. In 2001, 342,000 visas in this category were issued.

          The INS will be able to issue 195,000 new visas this fiscal year, but the cap is set to decline to 65,000 in the 2004 fiscal year. Congress is expected to see pressure to increase the cap limit from technology groups, but there's a growing and organised grass-roots movement among unemployed IT workers against any increase.

          One organisation that that has been critical of the H-1B programme is the IEEE-USA, a unit of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers.

          According to latest US Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, there are 94,000 unemployed computer scientists -- an unemployment rate of 5.1% in that field, according to George F McClure, who chairs the IEEE's Career and Workforce Policy Committee. H-1B visa holders are "are all competing for the same small pot of jobs, and we don't think that is a good thing," he says.

          But Bob Cohen, a spokesman for the Information Technology Association of America, says the decline in H-1B visas being issued shows that the market "is self-regulating -- that companies are using the programme in a the way that it was intended to be used." The economic hit taken by IT firms has had an impact on employer use of H-1B visas, he add.

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