US reopens H-2B visa programme for foreign workers

US reopens H-2B visa programme for foreign workers

The congressionally mandated annual cap for H-2B visas sought by semi-skilled Indian workers is 66,000, and the government has issued only 40,640 this fiscal year, which ends Sep 30.

"Because of the low visa issuance rate, (US Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS) is reopening the filing period to allow employers to file additional petitions for qualified H-2B temporary foreign non-agricultural workers," the agency said in a statement.

While H-1B visas permit foreign nationals to work in the US on short-term projects as a prelude to a green card, the H-2B programme enables US employers to bring foreign nationals to the US to fill temporary non-agricultural positions for which there is a shortage of available workers.

Typically, H-2B workers fill labour needs in areas such as construction, health care, landscaping, food service and hospitality.

Normally, the number of applications for temporary work visas from US employers far outstrip the number available, but the recession has reduced demand.

The number of petitions from employers trying to bring foreigners to work permanently in the US has declined dramatically over the last two years.

The H-1B visas coveted by Indian techies too have gone abegging this year. USCIS has received approximately 45,000 H-1B petitions counting toward the Congressionally-mandated 65,000 cap.

Meanwhile, USCIS figures show government has received about half the number of employer-sponsored applications for work-based green cards in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 than it did in each of the previous years.

There were almost 235,000 applications submitted in fiscal 2007, almost 104,000 the following year, and fewer than 36,000 through the first eight months of fiscal 2009.

In fiscal year 2007, the latest year for which the statistics were available, most applicants came from India, Mexico, the Philippines, China and Korea, according to the Department of Labour.  

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