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US govt says H1-B visa cap reached, earliest in 3 yrs

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Applications from India may again be the largest bit of total granted.

The for being allowed to work in America may be regaining its coveted status. The Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it had received enough petitions for the visa to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 for financial year 2012. This is the earliest the cap has been reached in the past three years, indicating an uptick in demand for this category of work visas.

The agency stopped accepting new applications on Tuesday for H1-B visas to be used for employment in the US for FY2012, which started in October 2011. For FY2010, the cap was reached on December 21, 2009; for FY2011, the quota was only completed in January 2011. In contrast, in the two years preceding FY 2010, the quotas were filled within two days of the US starting to accept H1-B petitions, in April.

Part of the renewed demand, at least in India, may be due to US authorities getting stricter about issuing other categories of visas, such as L1s and B1s. According to New York-based immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta, greater scrutiny was directed towards L1 and B1 visa applications, especially from India. He said the rates of denial of these visas were higher at consulates in India than in other countries and, therefore, some employers may have switched to H1-B visas. He said it was reasonable to believe that India would again be the largest recipient of H1-B visas for FY2012.

Commenting on Wednesday’s USCIS announcement, Mehta said the information technology sector had witnessed robust demand for H1-B visas, not only from the big companies such as Infosys and TCS, but also from medium-sized and small-sized firms. There was also some demand this year from hedge funds and smaller financial institutions.

A notable trend this year was that more H1-B petitions were filed by start-up companies. In fact, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas noted in August that his agency had just published a clarification in response to several queries, stating that an entrepreneur or sole owner of a petitioning company could indeed qualify for an H1-B visa if that company satisfied the requirements of the visa and established the required employer/employee relationship.

Apart from the annual quota of 65,000, an additional 20,000 H1-B visas are available every year to those who have got a Master’s or higher degree in the US. The USCIS had already received more than 20,000 H1-B petitions for FY2012 under the advanced degree exemption category as of October 19.

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