Federal officials have announced long-awaited guidelines for how 20,000 new H-1b guest worker visas will be awarded this year. The agency in charge of the controversial visa program on Wednesday said the visas will be reserved for foreign workers who have received a master's or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education.
Confusion had swirled around those 20,000 visas, which Congress added last year to the H-1b program's annual cap of 65,000 visas. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in March indicated the additional visas would be available to a range of workers--not just to those with advanced degrees. That upset a business group, which accused the agency of reversing its position and undercutting congressional aims.
The cap for 2005 was reached on the very first day of the government's fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2004. Provisions of the new H-1B law went into effect in March, but employers have not yet been able to apply for any of the 20,000 new visas. Applications for those visas will be accepted beginning next Thursday, May 12, USCIS said, assuming the new regulations are published according to schedule in the Federal Register.