ATLANTA – President Bush signed the Omnibus Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2005, which contains provisions affecting the H-1B and L-1 visa categories.

Responding to pressure from high-tech businesses and industry groups, the approved legislation increases the number of H-1B visas to be issued in 2005 by 20,000, but limited it to foreign national master’s and Ph . D. graduates of U.S. universities Businesses such as Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. and high-tech trade groups have been urging Congress to take action, while organizations representing IT workers and engineers wanted Congress to keep this year’s cap at 65,000.

That cap was reached on the first day of the 2005 fiscal year, which began in October 2004; this was the first time that the visas had been issued so quickly.Without this new legislation, no new visas would have been issued for the remainder of the 2005 fiscal year.

Groups representing professionals who work in high-tech fields, such as the National Society of Professional Engineers in Alexandria, Va., opposed any increase in the cap. Al Gray, the group’s executive director, said that there are no really serious shorta ges of engineering and high-tech jobs. He said H-1B workers are competing for U.S. jobs, and that’s the concern. The appropriations act signed by Bush also contains the L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2004, which amends previous legislation by addressing the issue of outsourcing and puts certain restrictions on L-1 visa holders.

In addition, the new legislation includes a $500 fraud prevention and detection fee for new H-1B and L-1 petitions.