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Thousands of H-1B visas lie unused

world Updated: Dec 26, 2010 00:03 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times
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The US Congress may hope to offset costs for providing health care for 9/11 responders through extending the penalty on companies where more than half the employees are on H1B or L1 work visas and through an exports cess, but at least in the case of the once-coveted H1B that move may already have boomeranged.

More than 11,000 of the H1B visas are still going abegging, according to the latest available count from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and this could well be the first year since 2004 when the available cap of 65,000 visas is not met by the end of December.

These visas, available to all countries, have mainly been utilised in recent years by Indian tech companies like Infosys. And Indian companies were the targets of the original legislation championed by New York’s Senator Chuck
Schumer in August, that raised visa fees until 2014 to pay for measures to control illegal immigration.

Under the new bill, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, that penalty is to be extended till 2015.

Usually, the H1B visas have been in great demand, but that flagged even last year when the quota was filled only by the third week of December.

This year that target appears to be even more difficult to meet since the weak American economy has impacted demand and that has been compounded by the visa fee penalty.

The new measures have also attracted some criticism. Walter Lohman, Director of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center, titled a post Are Visas for Indian High Tech Companies Congress’ New Cash Cow? The H1B visas quota in previous years, except last year, be filled within a week of applications being accepted, by the first week of April.

However, protectionist sentiment in the US may have taken the sheen off the H1B.