US' new budget bill does not include more H1B visas

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A Senate-passed measure to provide additional foreign worker visas for the high-tech and specialty fields was dropped from a budget bill that passed the House early Dec. 19, disappointing technology and manufacturing companies in search of skilled workers.

The Senate plan would have allowed 30,000 more of the popular H-1B visas each year and increased fees for those visas to help trim the budget deficit.

Congress capped the six-year H-1B visas at 65,000 per year in 2004. The cap already has been reached for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

The Senate language also would have allowed 90,000 more employment-based green cards that offer permanent residency to skilled workers and added fees for those visas.

Critics contend the visas give foreigners high-level jobs that should go to American workers.

House and Senate negotiators left it out of the final version of a $39.7 billion (euro33.1 billion) federal budget bill that passed the House 212-206 and was expected to get a Senate vote later the same day.

"This is very, very disappointing," said Sandy Boyd, a vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers.

"What's distressing about this, and what the Senate clearly understood, is there is a real global competition for this work and for these employees, and the question is not whether the work is going to get done, it's where is the work going to get done. We've missed a real opportunity by not ensuring the work would be done here."

House and Senate negotiators also dropped a plan to increase fees on another kind of visa, the L-1, which companies use to transfer to the United States workers they already employ abroad.

The boost to visa availability and fees was meant to achieve budget savings in programs under jurisdiction of the congressional judiciary committees. Instead of using visas, the final version of the bill saves money in judiciary programs by increasing fees for filing lawsuits and filing for bankruptcy.