WASHINGTON, April 5 A popular U.S. visa program
for skilled workers has hit its quota just days into the
application period, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service
said, triggering a lottery and signaling that companies feel
confident enough about the economy to hire more foreign workers.
The H-1B program has not reached its base cap of 65,000 so
quickly since early 2008, before the economic crisis hit. That
was the last time a lottery was used, according to USCIS.
A separate H-1B allocation for masters and PhD graduates
from U.S. universities has also hit its quota of 20,000 visas,
After Friday, the USCIS will no longer accept applications
subject to quotas.
The H-1B is a nonimmigrant visa in the United States that
allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in
specialty occupations. The duration of stay is three years,
extendable to six years.
The USCIS is allowed to authorize 65,000 visas this year
under the H-1B program. The lottery will determine who gets
U.S. companies, particularly in technology, say they need
the visas to fill vacant positions. But some worker-advocacy
groups counter that the companies are using the visa program to
hire cheaper foreign labor.
USCIS will bundle the applications received through Friday
into two lotteries. The lottery for 20,000 advanced-degree
holders will be held first, and then any of those applications
not selected will be fed into the wider lottery for the 65,000
The agency said it could not yet specify a date for the
lotteries due to the large number of applications received.
While the official quota is 65,000, the actual number of
people who enter the United States on H-1Bs is far greater
because workers at universities and some other workplaces do not
count toward the limit.
Last year, the government issued 129,000 H-1B visas.
U.S. Congress is currently working on immigration reform
legislation. Among the proposals is a revamp of the H-1B program
that could raise the quota based on demand and eliminate the