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Annual H-1B visa cap met--already

The rush by companies, particularly of the high-tech persuasion, to apply for H-1B visas for next year has officially come to an end--only one day after it began.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Tuesday that it had received 150,000 applications as of Monday afternoon for the controversial work permits, which allow foreigners with a bachelor's degree in their area of specialty to be employed in the United States for up to six years.

That's more than enough applications to meet the cap for the fiscal year 2008 crop of visas, which is currently 65,000, so USCIS said it would be accepting no more petitions. Up to 20,000 additional visas are available for foreigners with advanced degrees from U.S. schools, but USCIS said it hadn't yet determined how many applications fit in that category.

As for the extra applications, USCIS said it would use a computerized "random selection" process to narrow down what it had received on Monday and Tuesday. All rejected applications and their requisite fees--and those received on or after Wednesday--will be returned to their senders. (PDF: USCIS press release from April 3 regarding the H-1B petitions)

Last year, it took about two months for USCIS to receive enough petitions to exhaust its visa quota. High-tech industry associations said the current state of affairs points to the need for Congress to raise the H-1B cap.

"America must have access to the world's best talent if we are to compete in the global economy," said Phil Bond, president and CEO of the Information Technology Association of America. "Upon its return, Congress should move quickly to raise the cap and make it more responsive to market demand."

Some in Congress have appeared receptive to the idea. Others are backing a new proposal, supported by American programmers and engineers, that would overhaul the system in an attempt to step up checks on fraud and abuse.