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4/8/2008
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U.S. Hits Cap On H-1B Visa Petitions For Fiscal 2009

The cap includes 65,000 general H-1B visas and 20,000 H-1B visa exemptions for foreign-born students who received advanced degrees from U.S. schools.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Tuesday said it received more than enough H-1B visa petitions to meet the annual cap of 85,000 for fiscal 2009 beginning Oct. 1.

The cap includes 65,000 general H-1B visas and 20,000 H-1B visa exemptions for foreign-born students who received advanced degrees from U.S. schools.

USCIS accepted the petitions for five days, beginning on April 1 and ending yesterday, April 7. During that time, the agency received "a high number" of petitions, although it hasn't yet disclosed exactly how many. An USCIS spokesman says it could be "days" before the agency is ready to announce its final count.

USCIS, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, says it also isn't ready to disclose when it will conduct its random, computer-generated selection of H-1B visa petitions.

Last April, USCIS received 133,000 H-1B petitions in two days before it stopped accepting the applications. This year, USCIS issued an interim rule saying it would accept the visa petitions for five days regardless of how the volume of applications coming in, giving employers more time to submit their petitions for the lottery. Technology companies, who have been lobbying for several years to raise the H-1B visa cap, have predicted that USCIS this year received a record number of petitions.

The Dept. of Homeland Security late last week also issued an additional interim final ruling, extending by 17 months the Optional Practical Training (OPT) for qualified foreign students with F-1 visas and degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This allows those students to work for employers up to 29 months instead of only 12 months, giving those students more time to receive H-1B visas before their F-1 visas expire.

The hitch for employers: The extension is only available to students employed by companies that are enrolled in the Dept. of Homeland Security's E-Verify program, the government's electronic system for companies to verify that a job candidate is in the U.S. legally.

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