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H-1B update: Number of requests grew this year

Numbers from immigration officials show that more H-1B visas were requested during this year's application window than last year's, particularly for foreigners with advanced degrees.

The number of petitions for H-1B temporary workers filed for next year increased overall by about 20 percent this time around, U.S. immigration officials said this week.

On Tuesday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it had closed this year's application window, having received more than enough petitions to meet a congressionally mandated cap of 65,000 visas and fill another 20,000 slots for foreigners holding advanced degrees from U.S. universities. But it didn't immediately reveal the number of petitions it had received.

USCIS said on Thursday that according to a "preliminary" count, it had received more than 163,000 petitions, of which about 31,200 pertained to the visas for advanced degree holders, between April 1 and April 7. Per a recent rule, USCIS plans to conduct a random computer selection process to narrow down the petitions received during those first five days of the application window.

For comparison's sake, last year, USCIS received about 133,000 applications (PDF of press release) within the first two days of the filing window, but only 12,989 of those petitions were filed on behalf of foreigners with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions. It wasn't until the end of April that USCIS determined it had received enough petitions to fill the 20,000 cap-exempt spots.

The number of petitions may have climbed a bit more if the Department of Homeland Security hadn't recently declared that filing duplicate applications would result in all of a company's petitions for a particular worker being tossed out.

Those numbers, by the way, don't include renewals for existing employees or certain nonprofit and research institutions that are exempt from the cap, said Chris Ratigan, a USCIS spokesman, despite claims to the contrary by Sen. Chuck Grassley on Thursday.

Grassley and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have voiced concern about abuse of the visas--particularly by Indian outsourcing firms--and have backed a bill that would require employers hoping to hire H-1B workers to do more to fill those posts with Americans first.

In response to ongoing requests from high-tech companies like Microsoft and Oracle, members of the House of Representatives have already proposed doubling or tripling the cap on H-1B visas going forward. And late on Thursday, Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) offered up a measure of their own that would, among other things, raise the baseline H-1B cap to 115,000 and the advanced-degree exemption to 30,000 visas for the next three years. It would also allow the government to "recapture" and redistribute 150,000 unused H-1B visas from previous years and raise the H-1B filing fees by 50 percent (from $1,500 to $2,250).