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H-1B petitions hit record high

The deluge of requests for next year's crop of H-1B visas, which prompted U.S. immigration officials to halt the application process almost as soon as it began, could be destined for the history books.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services told CNET on Wednesday that the received by the agency as of Monday afternoon--and an as-yet uncounted number that came in on Tuesday--set a record for the first days of a new application round.

"We should get a final count soon," spokeswoman Chris Rhatigan said in a telephone interview.

There's currently an annual cap of 65,000 H-1B visas, which allow foreigners with a bachelor's degree in their area of specialty to spend up to six years working for companies in the United States. Up to 20,000 more visas are available for foreigners with advanced degrees from U.S. universities.

After opening the new petition cycle on Monday, USCIS announced on Tuesday that it would cease accepting new petitions. It said it would use a computer-generated lottery process to narrow down the ones it had received up to that point. The rest, along with their application fees, will be returned to their senders.

The scenario may give high-tech companies additional ammunition as they continue lobbying Congress to elevate the cap. But an outcry from groups representing American programmers and engineers over perceived loopholes in the system could stall those efforts.