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As expected, next year's H-1B visa limit met

Immigration officials say they've received more than enough petitions for the some 85,000 visas up for grabs. Now they'll do a random lottery to pick who gets them.

Editor's note: This blog was updated at 1:02 p.m. PDT with comments from the high-tech industry.

As predicted by high-tech companies months ago, U.S. immigration officials said Tuesday that they've received more than enough petitions for next year's batch of H-1B temporary worker visas and would be considering no more of them.

A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman said the agency won't say until later this week exactly how many applications it received since the application window opened on April 1. (The agency characterized the number, not surprisingly, as "high" in a press release.) Per a recent rule, immigration officials plan to select visa recipients by using a computer-generated random selection process to narrow down petitions filed within the first five days.

Last year, the rush on H-1B visas ended one day after it began, and immigration officials used a similar "lottery" system to narrow down those applications. Visa petitioners don't like the lottery system because they say it causes them to lose out on potential hires.

The congressionally mandated cap on H-1B visas currently stands at 65,000, with an additional 20,000 made available for foreigners with advanced degrees from U.S. universities. USCIS said they had received too many applications in both categories. (To obtain an H-1B visa, a foreigner must hold at least a bachelor's degree in his or her area of specialty.)

Technology companies prize the visas because they say foreign hires are needed to fill gaps in their workforces, but some American computer programmers charge that the program has been abused, leading to depressed wages and displacement of qualified Americans.

High-tech companies like Microsoft, Google, and Oracle have been agitating for greater numbers of H-1B visas and green cards for permanent residents. Some members of Congress have proposed doubling or even tripling the annual allotment, which peaked at 195,000 just after the dot-com bust. Others, however, have proposed new obligations for U.S. companies designed to address concerns about visa abuse.

Robert Hoffman, an Oracle vice president, said the "artificially low cap" threatens to deprive U.S. companies of international talent.

"Congress has failed to address the problem as U.S. universities graduate highly educated individuals who leave to work in competitor nations," he said in a statement on behalf of the group Compete America, whose members include Cisco Systems, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and other high-tech companies. "This madness must end this year."