August 19, 2005--Federal officials announced last week that all 65,000 H-1B visas for the 2006 fiscal year have already been issued. This is the earliest the visa petitions have reached maximum capacity since H-1B visas were first offered in early 1990s, sparking debate between business organizations and the government on whether the capacity should be increased.

The H-1B visa is the most common key to U.S. entry for college-educated foreign workers. Its capacity is set annually by Congress and is determined by data reflecting the current state of the economy. Its maximum capacity was set at 195,000 in 2001 through 2003. H-1B visas are valid at the beginning of the fiscal year in October and are good for three years. The H-1B visa's capacity dropped in 2004 to 65,000, where it is also set for the 2006 fiscal year.

Beginning this year, the first 20,000 H-1B visa applicants with a master's degree or higher from an American institution will be exempt and not included in the set capacity level, making more visas available to other applicants. The rest of those with advanced degrees from American universities will be counted in the 65,000 capacity.

Both large and small businesses are calling for Congress to increase the maximum number of available H-1B visas. The protest comes primarily from engineering, computer science, and other technical companies who say their competitiveness will be hindered by governmental limits on importing skilled foreign labor. "If we want to be competitive on the world stage, we need to raise the H-1B cap," Information Technology Association of America President Harris N. Miller said in a statement. "Maintaining a cap that is so low that it is met before the year even begins makes no sense; it only helps our foreign competitors."

Chris Bentley, spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), encouraged business owners to provide input on the regulations the USCIS is assigned by Congress to manage. "For any employer who feels the need to have greater input in this discussion, the appropriate way is to contact their Congressmen," he said.