More Than 8,000 Apply For H-1B Visa-Cap Exemptions

New government rules allow up to 20,000 foreign nationals with graduate degrees from U.S. institutions to avoid the 65,000 visa cap.

More than 8,000 petitions seeking exemptions to the 65,000 cap on H-1B visas this fiscal year have been made to the government, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Tuesday.

Each year, the government allows 65,000 foreign nationals to enter the United States to work in highly skilled and professional occupations such as IT, architecture, accounting, and medicine. In May, the government issued new regulations to let an additional 20,000 foreign workers into the country if they hold at least a master's-level degree from a U.S. academic institution. As of Tuesday, 8,069 petitions had been received for the exemption for the fiscal year that ends Sept 30.

In each future year, an additional 20,000 foreign workers receiving graduate degrees in the United States could qualify for the H-1B visa above the 65,000 cap.

Congress established the H-1B visa category a half century ago and added the cap in 1990. The program's aim is to allow American employers to augment their payrolls with highly skilled temporary workers.

The Department of Homeland Security says it requires U.S. employers to meet specific labor conditions to ensure that American workers aren't adversely impacted, while the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division safeguards the treatment and compensation of H-1B workers.

But critics contend the visa program's main purpose is to provide employers with cheap labor by giving entry to foreigners who are willing to accept lower salaries than their American counterparts, resulting in fewer jobs for U.S. workers. Many employers, however, counter that they can't find certain skills among the U.S. workforce and must turn to foreigners to fill those positions.

The government didn't break down what occupations petitioners sought to fill, but about one-third of H-1B visa holders in the past held IT jobs.

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