Highly skilled foreigners still hoping to get an H-1B visa to work in the United States this year are out of luck because the visas have run out.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Tuesday that it received enough visa applications to fill its annual cap of 85,000 visas Monday, about five months earlier than the cap was hit last year.
Higher visa demand this season signaled a tech hiring surge to some.
"H-1Bs are a good indicator of how the economy is doing," said Florida immigration lawyer Ashwin Sharma. "You only hire an IT consultant when there's work available, and it's work that has to be estimated six months in advance. If companies are taking that risk, there's a belief that the economy is back and there's money to be made."
Employers looking for professionals in "specialty" fields from technology to teaching in the past 10 weeks filed tens of thousands of petitions to sponsor foreign workers on the three-year temporary visas.
Many H-1B candidates are still waiting to find out if the U.S. government approved their visas. Workers who win a visa can begin their jobs in October.
"I am really looking forward to getting the visa and getting the chance to work in Silicon Valley," said one 24-year-old software developer being recruited by a Redwood City startup.
Speaking by phone from his home in Bangalore, India, the graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology said he is anxiously waiting to hear back on the status of the application the company filed for him a week ago. He asked that his name not be used for fear the attention could jeopardize his chances.
It took nearly seven months last year and almost the entire year in 2010 for employers to seek enough workers to hit the yearly cap. That was a big change from pre-recession years when the 85,000 visas -- including 20,000 set aside for people with advanced degrees -- ran out in less than a week.
This year, it took 10 weeks to reach the cap, the quickest since before the recession. The advanced-degree cap was reached Thursday and the total cap reached Monday.
Companies that didn't file a visa petition before this week must wait until April 2013 to try again and won't be able to employ an H-1B worker until October 2013.
Many candidates for H-1B visas already live in the United States, said Pushpa Unni, who works at a Fremont-based consulting firm that assists with applications.
Of the 52 applications she helped file this year, Unni said, most involved foreign students graduating from California universities with a master's or bachelor's degree who want to stay in the region to work.