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H-1B visas for foreign-born tech workers now closed until 2019

Just five days after it opens, the window to apply closes for highly skilled workers hoping to come to the US.

Tech companies in the US that employ highly skilled foreign citizens won't be able to hire any more through the H-1B visa program until 2019. Applications for the H-1B visa that allows skilled workers to temporarily work in the US are now closed. The window opened April 2, only five days ago.

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It took US companies just five days to max out their 2018 requests for H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers.

US State Department

While the limited availability of H-1B visas potentially affects every company in the US, it hits the tech industry, and Silicon Valley in particular, especially hard. Foreign citizens make up almost three quarters of the area's tech workforce, the San Jose Mercury News reported in January.

"That's it for the entire year for our nation's ability to bring in the best and brightest individuals through the H-1B program to come create American jobs," Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a US lobby in favor of immigration reform, said in a statement. "In addition to forcing us to miss out on the creation of American jobs, these arbitrary limits will stifle medical innovation and wage growth, and will hurt our economy."

President Donald Trump has focused on reforming the H-1B visa selection process, last year signing an executive order for government agencies to review official policies -- including those that allow spouses of H-1B visa holders to also work in the United States, The New York Times reported.

Trump also wants to award visas to the most skilled workers.

"Right now, H-1B visas are awarded in a totally random lottery, and that's wrong," Trump said last April.

Currently US Citizenship and Immigration Services uses an electronic program to randomly select 85,000 H-1B visa holders per year. H-1B visas last three years, and they can be renewed. While visa holders are selected each year in April, they can't start work until October. Companies won't be able to petition again for H-1B visas on behalf of promising candidates until April 2019.

While the USCIS has reached its cap of H-1B petitions in under a week for years, that hasn't always been the case.

"In the past it has stayed open for over a year," Sharon Rummery, the PR liaison for the San Francisco branch of the USCIS, said. She added that the program is now more popular compared with other points in the visa's history.

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