Sure, the labor market remains sluggish, and plenty of U.S. tech workers still can't find good jobs. But that hasn't dampened employers' appetite for foreign workers: Companies are close to using up next year's allotment of H-1B visas for skilled foreigners.
Employers filled this year's quota by April and were allowed to apply early for the 65,000 H-1B visas that will become available in fiscal 2005, which begins Oct. 1. So far nearly 46,000 petitions for 2005 have come in, says U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. So it's likely that the 65,000 cap will be met even before the new year.
Foreign work visas have provoked fierce debate. In 2000, workers' groups unsuccessfully fought a temporary hike in H-1B visas, to 195,000. But that hike expired this year, and the cap dropped back to 65,000. Employers have lobbied for another boost, but with jobs a key election issue, a bill in Congress is likely to remain idle for now.
Note: This story originally appeared in the Sept. 27, 2004, issue of BusinessWeek. By Aaron Bernstein in Washington, D.C.