With the economic slowdown continuing-particularly in technology industries-employers apparently slashed their use of the controversial H-1B visa program late last year and through the first half of 2002, according to new figures released by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
The INS said that during the 9 months ending June 30, 2002, it approved 60,500 requests for new H-1B visas that would have been covered by the current annual cap of 195,000. The number of approved applications was less than half the 130,700 applications approved during the same period a year earlier.
Those numbers, the INS said, do not include petitions for H-1B extensions or modifications. Those requests are not covered by the cap. In October of 2000, Congress, responding to urgent employer requests for help addressing what many described as a harmful shortage of IT professionals, overwhelmingly increased the cap on new H-1B visas from 115,000 to 195,000 per year. That decision has become the source of controversy since many out-of-work IT professionals have blamed competition from the increased number of H-1B visa holders for their difficulty in finding new jobs. The INS said total H-1B petitions-for visas not covered by the cap as well as those that are-fell by 41 percent in the 9 months ending June 30, from 270,000 in fiscal year 2001 to 159,000 in the most recent period.
The INS said, as of June 30, about 18,000 applications for new H-1B visas (which are subject to the cap) were pending.
- Jeff Moad