Still Hungry For Foreign Hires

American companies are already using up 2005's H-1B visas. With the election looming, Congress won't rush to expand the allotment

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.

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