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Report urges Congress to increase H-1B visa cap

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The US economy is being held back because the government has not increased the cap on H-1B visas for highly skilled workers, according to a new report from analysts at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.

The study found that US employers want more H-1B visas to be made available so they can hire more foreign nationals for highly skilled, hard-to-fill jobs. The H-1B visa program is popular among US businesses wishing to employ graduate level foreign workers in specialty occupations.

Each year only 65,000 visas are available for regular H-1B visa cap petitions for graduate level foreign workers in professional or specialty occupation positions. Also, an additional 20,000 H-1B visa cap petitions visas are made available for those with an US Master degree or higher degree awarded at an US university.

"Demand for H-1B workers has fluctuated with economic and political cycles over the last decade and reflects a wide range of employers' needs for high-skilled temporary workers. Employer requests have exceeded the number of visas issued every year except from 2001 to 2003 when the annual cap was temporarily raised from 65,000 to 195,000," said the report.

According to the report, during the 2010-2011 fiscal year there were more than 300,000 H-1B visa requests. This year US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that as of June 11, 2012, the cap of 65,000 H-1B visa petitions had been met for fiscal year 2013. In addition, the 20,000 petition cap for the advanced degree H-1B visa was met on June 7, 2012.

"Congress must increase its responsiveness to fluctuations in H-1B visa demand," Brookings analyst Neil Ruiz said. "Demand far outstripped supply in the late 1990s, and by the time Congress acted in 2001, the dot-com bubble had already burst."

Employers argue that they need more graduates in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (STEM); There are not enough US citizen degree holders in those fields. The report found that 64 percent of all H-1B visa requests are for STEM positions and approximately half of all STEM degrees earned from US institutions go to foreign nationals.

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