The regular visa cap was reduced to 65,000 starting in fiscal 2004, though. Even with the addition of the 20,000 visas for advanced degree holders, the visa limits have easily been met over the past few years, with India-based outsourcing and IT services firms topping the list of H-1B recipients in the current fiscal year. The high demand has prompted Microsoft Corp. and other H-1B proponents to call for an increase in the visa cap.
In the past, the IEEE has drawn a connection between the H-1B program and the unemployment rate for engineers. For instance, in 2003, when the visa cap was still at 195,000, the unemployment rate for computer software engineers was measured at 5.2%. But in November 2004, the IEEE said that unemployment among software engineers had shrunk to 3.3%, a decline it attributed to the lowering of the H-1B cap.
Overall high-tech unemployment also fell sharply after the cap was reset. John Steadman, IEEE-USA's president at the time, said that the reduced ability of U.S. employers to fill jobs with guest workers from overseas was "good news for U.S. technical professionals."
Day, the current IEEE-USA president, said today that the organization "continues to be concerned about the H-1B program" and is supporting a proposed overhaul of the visa rules. As part of that, IEEE-USA has staked out a position that favors the use of green cards granting permanent residency over short-term visas.
U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are expected this month to reintroduce legislation proposing some H-1B reforms, including the addition of a requirement that companies make "good faith" efforts to hire U.S. citizens for job openings before using H-1B workers.
Any push in Congress to increase the H-1B cap likely will come only as part of a comprehensive immigration-reform bill. It's unclear whether President Barack Obama would back a cap increase at this point, but the White House argued in a court filing last month that the inability of employers to obtain H-1B visas for skilled foreign workers is creating "a competitive disadvantage for U.S. companies."