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EXP-IMMIG-VISAS-NYT 04-10

Skilled worker visas in demand

Federal immigration authorities received about 163,000 petitions for temporary work visas for highly skilled immigrants for the year starting Oct. 1, officials said Thursday, nearly twice as many as the number of visas available.

The government each year offers 65,000 visas, known as H-1Bs, for highly educated fo-1reign workers, and 20,000 visas for immigrants with a master’s degree or doctorate from an American college or university. Citizenship and Immigration Services closed the application period Tuesday after it had been open for the five-day minimum.

Although petitions for the 2009 fiscal year increased by about 23 percent over 2008, immigration officials said they had expected an even higher number. A new rule penalizing employers who presented more than one petition for the same worker helped keep down the numbers, said Chris Rhatigan, a spokeswoman for the immigration agency.

Sometime next week, the agency will conduct an electronic lottery to select 85,000 immigrants to receive the H-1B visas, which are valid for three years and can be renewed for another three.

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The visa announcement brought renewed calls from American technology companies to raise the annual limits.

Labor organizations say that H-1B immigrants have depressed wages for American technology workers.

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