H-1B visa demand still high

Despite layoffs, INS says the demand for visas for foreign technology workers has not slackened significantly

Faltering technology companies are laying off thousands of workers, but the demand for visas for foreign technology workers has not slackened significantly, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The number of requests for H-1B visas reached 177,000 by July 25. Of those, 138,000 had been granted and 39,000 were still pending, the INS reports.

Last fall, Congress increased the number of H-1B visas that could be issued from 115,000 to 195,000 for fiscal 2001, which ends Sept. 30. At the rate visas have been requested and issued so far this year, the limit could be reached late this month.

Demand for H-1B visas was high in December 2000, but declined steadily thereafter until May, when it began increasing again. The number of requests for H-1B visas increased through June and July, said INS spokeswoman Eyleen Schmidt.

H-1B visas are for foreign workers who have at least a bachelor's degree. They are issued at the request of U.S. employers.

Requests for H-1B workers increased even as layoffs in telecommunications, computer and electronics companies rose to more than 358,000, according to Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc., a nationwide outplacement company.

However, many of the layoffs have been in manufacturing jobs, not the kind of white-collar jobs H-1B visa holders typically fill, according to Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America.

"Despite the hullabaloo you hear about downsizing, fact of matter is that unemployment remains at historic lows," Miller said. That is particularly true for jobs that require college diplomas and high-technology skills, he said.

"It's not like it was when people were getting Porsches and trips to the Alps" for signing on with high-tech companies, Miller said. "But you don't see people walking around with signs saying, "Will program for food.' "

In April, the ITAA cut its estimate of unfilled information technology jobs from 850,000 to 425,000.

High-tech companies hire about 60 percent of those who receive H-1B visas. Among the others are teachers, employees sought by colleges and universities, and scholars hired by research organizations, according to the INS.

The annual cap for H-1B visas is set at 195,000 for 2002 and 2003, but drops to 65,000 in 2004.

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